Photo Simphiwe Mbokazi African News Agency

Mixed reaction to unions’ calling for school closure

“From the onset we have been against the reckless reopening of schools. We have requested that until it is safe to do so scientifically our children should stay home.”

DURBAN – The Department of Basic Education is yet to respond to the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) after the teachers union called for schools to be closed until Covid-19 peak is over.

School officially reopened on June 8 with Grade 12s and 7s going in first. The two grades were followed by grade 6s and 11s and Grade Rs at some schools. The education department’s proposed plans will see more grades going back to school by August 3rd.

Political parties have weighed in on the debate about the continued teaching and learning at South African schools amid a rapid rise of Covid-19 infections. The African National Congress (ANC) said it shared the sentiments of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that schools should only be reopened in the context of low community transmission rates of coronavirus.

EFF Spokesperson Delisile Ngwenya said: “From the onset, we have been against the reckless reopening of schools. We have requested that until it is safe to do so scientifically our children should stay home. We agree therefore with the World health organisation that until we deal with community transmissions and make sure that it’s safe for our children to go back to school, let our children stay at home. We should not be playing political football with the lives of our children.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance (DA) rejected Sadtu’s call for the closure of schools until after the Covid-19 peak, dismissing it as reckless. The party says the call is an attempt to disrupt the completion of the academic year and the academic progression of learners.

Social media users also added their voice to the ongoing debate; most users questioned the timing while others say that the government should adopt a no work no pay stance.

The union said the resolution to close schools was taken during a special meeting of its national executive committee, which sat on Tuesday, to discuss the spike of the virus. The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) earlier today also joined the choir of voices demanding that schooling be halted.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, the council of education ministers (CEM) made it clear that Sadtu had no power to dictate whether or not schools should be closed. The group issued a statement following a virtual meeting on​ Tuesday, in which it “noted the resolution by Sadtu” over the closure of schools.

“The decision on whether schools will be closed or not will be taken by the cabinet,” said the council.

The Congress of SA Students (Cosas) also issued its own statement calling on teachers to boycott schools, vowing that it would disrupt schooling should the department of education forge ahead with re-opening schools for all learners.

A meeting that was supposed to take place between teachers unions and the minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga on Wednesday has been cancelled. 

According to the message sent to the unions the meeting, which was meant to discuss the way forward for schools amidst calls by education unions for the suspension of classes, has been cancelled due to the minister’s consultation with the sector. 

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