Unions rally behind education minister to keep schools open despite Malema’s ultimatum

Johannesburg – Although EFF leader Julius Malema has given the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga an ultimatum to close schools within a few days, teacher unions have come out in support of the minister to keep schools open.

The biggest teacher union, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), is against schools closing.

Sadtu spokesperson Nomuza Cemba said: “Science will dictate what should be done, not politics.”

Executive director of the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa Basil Manuel said their position on the matter had not changed.

“We support schools being opened; we know the losses that occurred in the last year. If we believe the situation has reached a critical point, we will be informed by scientists. And our scientists have indicated to us that children and teachers are safest in schools,” said Manuel.

“The reality is that the number of infections in all schools is not unusual at this point in time, as we’re told by scientists. They have indicated that children will be worse off if we send the children off into the unknown without control.”

South Africa officially entered the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic on Thursday with more than 9 000 infections in a single day.

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Gauteng is reported to be the epicentre and there has been an increase in the number of children testing positive in primary and high schools.

Malema on Thursday gave Motshekga seven days to close down schools, threatening to enforce a total shutdown should the minister not heed his party’s call.

Many parents as well as some teachers are, however, concerned by the rise of infections over the last two weeks.

Julius Malema. PICTURE: EFF

A concerned staff member from Faranani Primary School in Soweto said she feared for her life and that of her pupils after three known Covid-19 cases were reported at the school. The staff member, who did not want to be named because she feared victimisation, said almost two weeks ago they were exposed to the first positive case at the school. By the end of the week, staff members were told of another adult positive case. But she said the news came through the partner of the educator and not from the principal.

“I then found out that a grade 7 pupil also tested positive … There wasn’t any sanitising going on. We were going on as normal,” said the staff member, noting that they approached Sadtu, which advised them to report the matter to the local district, which they did. “What really makes me emotional is that pupils were not given letters to inform their parents [of Covid-19 cases]. Parents are unaware of what is going on here,” the source said.

The informant said grade 3 pupils were made to sit in the bitter cold on Tuesday for more than three hours while their class was being cleaned with a mop and the tables wiped.

Deputy director of media relations at Gauteng department of education (GDE) Khuitsemang Diseko said the matter had been brought to their attention.

“We are aware of the matter at Faranani Primary School in Soweto. The matter was reported to the school principal and the cluster leader.”

She said all Gauteng schools must follow national Covid-19 protocols, which require wearing of masks, sanitising of hands and physical distancing.

“When a positive case of Covid- 19 is reported at a school, a medical report is requested to be sent to the school.

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The principal writes a report and sends it to the GDE Covid-19 enquiries, the Health Department and the circuit office through the cluster leader. The affected area must also be decontaminated.

“Anyone found guilty of breaching Covid-19 protocols at our schools may be subjected to relevant consequence management processes,” said Diseko.

Puleng Dlamini, a parent in Newclare, west of Johannesburg, said her children, one in high school and another in primary, told her that some of their friends, as well as teachers, had tested positive.

“We did not receive formal communication from the school. I don’t support that schools should close; we just need to trust that our children will be kept safe at school and that the schools are sanitised to protect them from being infected.”

Gauteng education spokesperson Steve Mabona said the department has already closed about 20 schools for one to three days.

“Schools are closed after consultation with the Department of Health, after an assessment has been conducted they will recommend closure or not.”

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