Address by the NATU President, Mr S.V. Malinga during the 104th Anniversary and National Elective Conference held at the Olive Convention Centre in Durban on 7-9 September 2022.
The Man of God
Central Executive Board of NATU
Delegates and Observers
Members of the National Teachers’ Union
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
FIRST CONFERENCE AFTER THE CENTENARY CONFERENCE
As the National Teachers’ Union marks 104 years of existence this year (2022),NATU is still solid and intact. Thanks to the Almighty, Usigcine kwaze kwaba la. As I express my delight and gratitude at seeing you all here today, this comes with mixed feelings.
Comrades, as you are all aware, this is our first conference after NATU Celebrated her Centenary in 2018. In that conference an icon, NATU fire-bomb was elected, uncontested, as President of this beautiful union. That leader, Comrade Sikhumbuzo Alan Thompson, would have been the one standing here addressing you today. Unfortunately, he passed on to the land of our ancestors so early before he could get to the end of his very first term of office. So sad; so very sad. It was a blow to the National Teachers’ Union, to the Department of Education and to the Republic of South Africa as he contributed so immensely and meaningfully to various issues confronting education in our country – and beyond. However, one is pleased to see that NATU is still on the map and intact, working tirelessly for her members in all the provinces where NATU has a footprint.
RESIGNATION OF TWO BOARD MEMBERS
The resignation of the Deputy President Mamiki Modiye-Maselwa in November 2022 reduced the size of the Central Executive Board (CEB) by one member. Her resignation was soon followed by the resignation of Vice President R.N. Ngcobo in December 2020, on promotion to assume duties as a Chief Education Specialist (CES) in Ilembe District. This reduced the size of the CEB by another member, resulting in a total shortage of two members. Up to this point, we were not overly worried because we still had our President and hero, President Thompson, to lead and guide the NATU ship. So, all our hopes remained resting on our President’s shoulders, completely unaware that God had planned to call him on 3 January 2021. As I have already stated, this was a terrible blow to our organisation. In a very short space of time, NATU had lost three Board members – including its President and Deputy President. Such a sudden deficit in the top leadership of the organisation had never happened before.
THANKING NATU LEADERS AND MEMBERS FOR BELIEVING IN NATU AFTER WE LOST OUR PRESIDENT
I will not be doing justice to the full spectrum of the organisation if I do not thank NATU leadership at all levels and membership, in general, for standing firm behind their organisation against all the odds as we took the necessary strides to steady the NATU ship at the centre. Without this support and dedication, we would easily have become a laughingstock in the eyes of our foes. Prophets and Prophetesses of doom were already celebrating the total demise of our organisation. In their minds they thought, “NATU is now finished!”. However, through your support, resilience and dedication, NATU is here today celebrating her 104th anniversary. On top of that, NATU has continued to register significant growth, as evidence that employees in the Department of Education believes in NATU and sees the organisation as an alternative those that have been captured and have since departed from their original mandate and key responsibility of the work of trade unions. It is through the support of NATU members that the organisation still stands firm on its principles, namely, autonomy and independence; self-reliance and self-development; freedom of association and the right to organise; a professional approach to teaching inspired by the child’s right to learn; political and religious non-Alignment; and the enhancement of all aspects of the working life of educators. Our principles make us different from any organisation you may think of, and they have made us exist without fear for the past 104 years – and I am convinced that NATU will celebrate another one hundred years 96 years from now.
As some of you might remember, during the apartheid era and during the transitional period, NATU and its members stood fi rm. During President, Professor A.J. Thembela’s era, for instance, those of us from Pietermaritzburg will remember him appealing to us not to organise in places where it was dangerous, until the political dust had settled. We were not a military organisation but a trade union, so this was important wisdom which helped leaders of the organisation to traverse troubled waters to safer shores. Since then, NATU has spread her wings to all the 9 (nine) provinces, but one, particularly through the commitment, vision and hard work of Presidents S.L. Ngcobo and SA Thompson. Their vision was to make NATU a truly ‘National’ Teachers’ Union. Some of you may recall that NATU has continued with that vision. In 2021, for instance, NATU celebrated World Teachers’ Day in the Free State. Yes, NATU belongs to the nation of South Africa.
As one looks at the education scene closely, from school level upwards, 0ne finds it troubling that there are many challenges that have remain unresolved for many years – thereby compromising the quality of education for our children, especially those from poor socio-economic backgrounds. If the Department of Education and the Republic of South Africa regard education as first priority, they must put their money where their mouths are by making schools centres of excellence. This may sound like a pipedream, but it must be the ideal for which we all live. Had ‘education excellence’ started in the early years of our democracy, we would have achieved a lot by now. Quality teaching and learning will never be achieved in our country when the government fails to prioritize our education system. Each year provinces lament the never-ending budget cuts for education. These budget cuts make no sense because a progressive country contributes to, and invests more in, its people through education, than in any other sphere of life. We are grateful that the government has introduced free and compulsory basic education, however, how are we going to enjoy the free education if we still have challenges which have not been addressed for the past 28 years? Here, I am referring to challenges we inherited from the apartheid regime, like:
Most schools in deep rural areas have dilapidated infrastructure, access roads to schools are so unbelievably impassable that during rainy days teaching and learning are halted.
- Overcrowding in classrooms vs employment of educators
Classrooms are still overcrowded, such that teachers are unable to perform to the best of their abilities; they cannot even provide individual attention to those who need it. It is difficult to understand why sufficient educators are not employed when South Africa has thousands of unemployed qualified educators. The employment of these unemployed teachers and addition to the current classroom space will address the issue of overcrowding. If the government is truly serious about the country’s education, the issue of budget is an unacceptable excuse for its failure and inability to adequately provide for the education of our learners. Other ways would have been found to fund education adequately, at all the levels of the school system.
- Pit latrines
Many schools still use pit latrines, which are extremely dangerous for young learners and, even so, the pit latrines in those schools are not sufficient for the school population. Oftentimes, these latrines are shared between learners and educators. Still, in some cases, both males and females use the same pit latrines. Worse still, there are some schools where there are no toilets; where teachers and learners make use of the bushes or the open veld to relieve themselves. This exposes female learners to the risk of rape.
- Learner transport
Most, if not all, provincial education departments (PEDs) have failed to provide safe and reliable transport to needy learners. Presently, it appears as if the transport scheme has completely collapsed, seeing that we still have many leaners traveling more than five kilometres to schools.
- Norms and standards allocation It has become a norm that schools receive their allocation late, even when they submitted their audited financial Statements on time. Oftentimes, the allocations approved by the PEDs do not correctly reflect the reality on the ground – and amount to robbing the schools of the resources they need to do a good job. This brings about some serious challenges and frustrations to school governing bodies (SGBs), thereby compromising teaching and learning.
- Safety and Security in schools
This issue has been raised many times. How many teachers must be molested, robbed of their belongings, or even die before the employer prioritises safety in schools? We call upon the department to do away with the moratorium not to employ support staff. We demand that support staff be employed to protect human lives and school property.
- Catalogues with Unpriced Items
Schools are given catalogue in which items are not priced – and are asked to place orders for desks, chairs and other school requirements to support teaching and learning. How can one place an order without knowing the prices of the items? Inevitably, many schools are subsequently told that they have placed orders which exceed their budgetary allocations. The big question is, “Why do the prices remain hidden from school authorities?” Who holds the absolute power on these matters? Certainly, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
- Grade R issues
It is common knowledge that children who attend Grade R subsequently perform better in school than those who do not. It was for this reason that the government introduced Grade R to the schooling system. NATU was extremely happy with the decision to add Grade R to the schooling system, believing that the work of the Grade 1 educator would be made easier – as learners from Grade R would have been used to the school environment and its routines. In addition, it was envisaged that jobs opportunities would be created for the people. However, it is very painful and unacceptable when one looks at the conditions of service of Grade R educators. They earn absolutely nothing; in the province of KwaZulu Natal it is a shame because they are paid far less than in other provinces. They do not have any benefits at all: no parental leave, medical aid, pension, etc. NATU demands that Grade R teachers be paid reasonable salaries, not a mere stipend. They have families to support. These workers do the most important work for the nation. Let us not be heartless.
- Employment vs Deployment
The National Teachers’ Union believes that if the Department of Education and South Africa as a country regard education as first priority, recruitment to our noble profession should not be politicised. NATU objects to cadre deployment in the employment and promotion of educators. We call for a fair and honest contest for appointments and promotions in the sector. The playground must be level for everyone. We are fed up with the situations whereby incompetent contestants are given posts through political party mandates and deployment. Deployment has corrupted our country and the school system, in particular. NATU has competent educators who qualify to be departmental heads, deputy principals, school principals, senior education specialists, and so on. However, many of them are overlooked and deprived of the opportunities to contribute to national development because of the policy of cadre deployment. This has resulted in the school system being plunged into a mess.
• The Devastating Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic
The Corona Virus Disease which hit the work at the end of 2019 (Covid-19) exposed the department of education more than many other government departments. If the Department did not know it, Covid-19 brought it to their attention that the country had a dire shortage of classrooms, desks, ablution facilities, educators, and huge school infrastructural backlog with respect to routine maintenance. It is my hope that the department is working on these issues because they were long ignored for whatever reason. Any further delays in tackling these matters will be unacceptable. Please, allow me to thank you, all, as well as all employees in the education sector for not dropping the ball during the Covid-19 pandemic. Comrades, you worked as soldiers defending their country. You stood firm because of your noble calling and the Teachers’ Pledge. It was hard, we lost thousands of employees, we lost our beloved ones, and we lost leaders in our communities, in the country, in the world and our NATU President, MHSRIP. We hate Covid-19.
Ladies and gentlemen, let us look at teacher development. Teachers are lifetime learners. This means that, as educators, we need to keep on learning on how best we can improve our teaching and other skills. This is possible if we are enthusiastic about our calling, but are we? Do we care for the subject that we teach? Do we care about our clients – the learners? It is not the responsibility of teachers alone; the Department must produce comprehensible teacher development programmes to equip teachers as they face new challenges in the changing world. We cannot introduce technologically advanced subjects without having trained our educators
accordingly. Quality teachers are required to teach quality learners, to produce quality results and enable the country to compete against quality countries in the world. The National Teachers’ Union has tried to contribute meaningfully to this, through the Teacher Development Institute (TDI), under the guidance of the Director – Prof. Sitwala Imenda. The Institute rolls out teacher professional development programmes yearly to develop educators to meet ongoing challenges.
IMPROVEMENT OF CONDITIONS OF SERVICE
It is morally and psychologically devastating that we gather here today without any significant improvement in the conditions of service of workers in the Department of Education, in particular. You will remember brothers and sisters that we have been robbed of our increment agreed to in Collective Agreement 1 of 2018. I mean the negotiated, agreed, signed, and partially implemented – until it was violated by the employer in the last year of implementation. Why should we keep on believing in the employer who does not negotiate in good faith. Currently, our negotiators are milking the bull at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC). Labour demanded 10% increase; our dear employer offered 0% – which was nothing but an insult. The cost of living is increasing day in and day out, but the heartless employer has nothing to offer. Instead, the employer is extremely adamant when it comes to paying workers a living wage which will enable them to meet their obligations as parents who have dependants. Teachers must be paid descent salaries to inspire young and competent candidates to join the profession.
We know that teaching is a calling. Nonetheless, teachers deserve to be paid well. Good and effective teaching requires working beyond the call of duty. To meet the academic needs of learners, most teachers organise extra classes and sacrifice their holidays for the benefit of poor children because they are patriots who love their country more than any other government employee does.
WORKING RELATIONS WITH OTHER ORGANISATIONS
As you may know, the raising of the membership threshold has forced teacher unions into alliances and similar working arrangements. Although these alliances are extraordinarily strong and productive, their nature is that they do not intend to weaken the identity of each individual constituent union. The main focus of our alliance with other unions is to ensure that, collectively, we work together as a confederacy of like-minded colleagues to achieve greater economies of scale for our members. We have heard of some small-minded individuals who claim that NATU does not participate in the PSCBC and other Chambers. We regard this as cheap union politics.
The CTU-ATU: This arrangement allows NATU to participate at the level of the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC). The ELRC is an exceptionally good forum which produces reliable results at the national level. However, it has some challenges at provincial level in some provinces. The issue of Corresponding Officers, as per our agreement, is still a challenge and remains ‘work in progress’. Nonetheless, I would like to thank other Union Principals in the CTU-ATU for the commitment they have shown in this arrangement.
The PSCBC: Let me start by reminding you, comrades, that the PSCBC does not recognise federations. NATU does not belong to any federation, from the time the union left the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA). However, NATU has a healthy working together agreement with the Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (HOSPERSA). This agreement is going from strength to strength as it is characterised by transparency and respect for each other. Consequently, each party to the agreement enjoys her identity and her autonomous status and we work hard on issues.
Comrades, delegates and observers, we need to talk to the issue of FEDUSA. The decision to withdraw from FEDUSA was taken at a NATU national conference, therefore it is up to this Conference to review that decision and give direction on the matter. In doing so, it would be important to weigh possible benefits and advantages of re-joining the Federation vis-à-vis the disadvantages. Recently, NATU held a meeting with FEDUSA leadership trying to convince us to consider re-joining the Federation. We informed them that we could not take any decision on the matter because it was a Conference matter.
NATU / SACE: We have a very fruitful collaboration with the South African Council for Educators (SACE). As such, we always enjoy partnerships on both SACE and NATU initiated activities across the country. We need to keep this relationship healthy and active as SACE is for educators – and we represent educators. We do not want to meet SACE only when our educators are said to be at fault and are charged, pursuant to the SACE Code of Ethics, the most common transgression. Let us have more programmes together to change the perception educators have about SACE, as a body whose job is to punish educators.
A NEED FOR UNITY AMONGST LABOUR ORGANISATIONS
It is imperative that despite labour differences, organised labour must work together to achieve more for the benefit of all workers. We suffer the same challenges, we earn almost the same salaries and live in the same communities, we need to shout in one voice.
In 2015, NATU noticed that many employees resigned in numbers, the investigation established that they were in financial crises. They wanted to access their money from the Government Employees’ Pension Fund to service their depts and to register their children for tertiary education. This impacted negatively on the Department of Education as some of the resignations were of experienced educators who were contributing meaningfully to pass rates of our matriculants, in particular.
Subsequently, NATU proposed to the government and GEPF officials to allow public service employees to access portions of their retirement funds – to be paid back at reasonable and affordable rates to curtail those hurtful resignations. Unfortunately, both government and GEPF resisted and opposed the proposal, resulting in public service employees continuing to suffer. The reprieve for public service employees could have been achieved, had all labour formations supported the proposal without looking at which organisation originated it. Supporting the proposal on the strength of its own merits would have brought financial relief to many public service employees, irrespective of their union affiliations. The petition on the matter was supported by 250 536 employees in the public service. However, it was extremely sad, painful and unfortunate that some unions discouraged their members from signing the petition for no reason, other than that it originated from NATU. It seems as if the government is now shifting towards NATU’s proposal – which vindicates NATU’s position on the matter. This move suggests that this was the right way to go. When this position has finally been sanctioned by government and public service employees have begun to benefit from their retirement funds, while still in employment, we will always remember that it was NATU’s brainchild. We shall then go all the way out to celebrate the maturing and fulfilment of our idea.
All our good ideas and plans will be impossible to actualise unless we grow our organisation. The strength of a labour union depends on the weight of its membership with respect to numbers – and, as they say, “numbers do not lie.” For NATU to participate actively and effectively in union matters, with a loud voice, the union has to grow. It is not the responsibility of the fulltime shop steward (FTSS) alone to grow the union, but it is the responsibility of each and every member, irrespective of portfolio – or otherwise. Let us all keep the excellent work of growing our organisation. NATU is the only organisation with recruitment history. There were no organisations that had to disband in favour of us, so we know exactly what it takes to recruit. During the apartheid era organisations were not allowed to operate across provincial boundaries. NATU had to wait until the country’s democratic dispensation to start expanding to other provinces. In particular, I wish to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude to NATU President S.L. Ngcobo who made it one of his top priorities to expand NATU to provinces beyond KwaZulu Natal. Regarding recruitment, please also allow me to commend the Bergville branch, Estcourt region, for doing outstanding work in supporting the FTSS’s recruitment programme. In this regard, we recognise and thank Mr Mlotshwa, the branch chairperson, and his team for excellent work. The Gauteng region has also improved to the extent that it has qualified to get an FTSS, making NATU boast of 9 FTSSs, nationally, next year. We are growing and we will continue to grow and spread our wings to all provinces. Amongst us today, we have NATU representatives from the Western Cape. They have been granted an observer status. You are welcome our dear comrades; NATU is your professional home. Thanks to Ms Mpanza, the FTSS who recruited most of our Cape Town comrades by using social media. The follow up made by Vice Nhlapo and the Acting Deputy President, Mr GM Mabuza, is also equally applauded. The Acting Deputy President and two FTSSs went down to Cape Town and visited district offices and schools. Furthermore, they held a very successful first NATU mass meeting in that Province. You have made history, colleagues, and I am truly proud of you. By the same token, I wish to thank Education departmental officials and school principals in the Western Cape, for not carrying out the stupid mandate, which some provinces display, of taking orders from some unions to block and prevent educators from choosing teacher unions of their choice. Soon, we will be in the Northern Cape, the remaining province without a NATU footprint. Grow NATU Grow!!!!
POLITICAL NON-ALIGNMENT – A PRINCIPLE RE-AFFIRMED
This is one of NATU’s cherished principles which makes it easy and possible to work across the country. NATU is the hope and home for all employees in the Department of Education, irrespective of their political affiliation. NATU respects the position that its members have the right to belong to any political organisations – and there is nothing wrong with that. I want to put this point clearly: NATU does not take any instructions from any political party but respects them equally. We once invited representatives of all political parties to our Workers’ Day celebrations – something you won’t witness with the politically aligned Unions. That we are politically non-aligned does not mean we do not speak and/or share ideas with political parties.
Members of different political parties are ruling our towns, cities, provinces, and the country; they are not our enemies. Delegates to this Conference have been welcomed by His Worship the Mayor of eThekwini, Mr Mxolisi Kaunda, because we are in Durban; the Conference has been addressed by the MEC for Education in the Province, Honourable Mbalenhle Cleopatra Frazer; today we have, in our midst, Honourable Minister Thembelani Thulas Nxesi; tomorrow we will be addressed by our mother, teacher and Minister of the Department of Basic Education, Honourable Mrs Angelina Matsie Motshekga. It is a fact that they all come from the ruling party – the African National Congress, and there is nothing wrong with that. Their party affiliation comes secondary to NATU, what matters most is that they are our political leaders in their designated portfolios. It does not mean that NATU is aligned to the African National Congress. When other leaders emerge from other political formations, they too will similarly be recognised and invited.
WORKING RELATIONS WITH OUR BUSINESS PARTNERS
Presidents A.J. Thembela, M.M.A. Shezi and S.L. Ngcobo laid a solid foundation with respect to fostering working relations with business partners – which is in line with NATU’s principle of self-reliance and self-development. NATU believes that we can improve and strengthen our relationships by collaborating in activities that will contribute meaningfully to teacher development. We are a teacher organisation; we have to address challenges that are experienced in our education system, but without taking away the responsibilities of the Department of Education.
As I conclude, allow me to thank you, the leadership of NATU, general members of NATU and friends of NATU who kept on praying for this union during the tough times. I thank the spirit of all past presidents of NATU who did not want to see NATU falling apart. Special thanks go to President S.L. Ngcobo who was there for the CEB when the darkest cloud covered NATU on the passing of President Thompson. I must also thank Dr M.M.A. Shezi for scheduling time to meet with me to discuss some issues of interest to NATU. How can I forget to thank the great and reliable support the CEB received from the office of the Director of the NATU Teacher Development Institute, Prof. S. Imenda. It was not easy to lead the organisation of such magnitude during such a tough and rough time; members wanted to see things happening in the first few weeks as if things were normal. One had to take some unpopular decisions to make sure that no one took advantage of NATU – both from within and outside the organisation. I am grateful that NATU is still intact, we have delivered on most of the resolutions of the 2018 Conference. NATU is well represented in all councils and platforms and actively participated in all activities, provincially and nationally. We have not dropped the ball but kept on holding the NATU flag high; we brought hope to members and leadership of NATU when things appeared to be gloomy and hopeless; we provided leadership when some unscrupulous persons wanted to take advantage of the organisation. I have one thing to say, “The struggle continues.” As elections take place tomorrow, the delegates have a responsibility to put the union first by electing leaders with unobstructed vision; leaders who understand our union well, to preserve its culture, ethos, and principle because these are the things that make us different from other organisations out there. I am referring to leaders who will not bargain with our organisation to fulfil their personal desires.
NATU needs leaders who “will not get lost in the maze of party politics; will not allow themselves to be caught up in the craze for power, positions and cash; will avoid getting themselves entangled in so many of the things that must pass and blow over.” Do not be misled by those who have been spreading malicious gossip and unfounded rumours; be aware of those who have forked tongues and lips, whose only aim is to destroy NATU as an organisation. I am sure NATU is relevant, it will remain relevant even in future because it is the professional home of all employees in the education sector, irrespective of their political or religious affiliations, skin colour or gender. We are autonomous and independent, and we use a professional approach to teaching, inspired by children’s right to learn.
Thank you for lending me your ears.