South African education minister Angelina Motshekga must resign, says union

The Educators Union of South Africa is seeking the resignation of education minister Angelina Motshekga following the spike in COVID-19 cases after schools reopened. The unions had warned against reopening schools

June 16, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Grade 12 learners from Thulani Secondary School in Snake Park, Soweto all wearing face masks waiting on a queue to be screened by a brigade and hand sanitized before entering the premises. 08/06/20 Photo: Oupa Nkosi - New Frame

The Educators Union of South Africa (EUSA) has called for the resignation of education minister Angelina Motshekga. This is following the spike in COVID-19 infections among teachers and students after the schools in South Africa were reopened earlier this month despite objection by unions. The demand will be reiterated on June 16, Tuesday, at the demonstration the union will hold outside the U.S embassy in Pretoria, in solidarity with the Black Live Matters movement

After the demonstration, the protestors will march to the Union Buildings – the seat of the South African government – raising the slogan “#AngieMotshekgaMustFall”.

“In just the first 3 days of school reopening, we have seen over 2,000 learners and teachers testing positive of COVID-19 and a subsequent closure of more than 100 schools across the country,” EUSA said in a statement on June 10.

These include 15 schools in Western Cape and 29 schools in Eastern cape. The latter province’s education department spokesperson said, Loyiso Pulumani, said on June 12 that in this region alone, “We have 15 teachers, three pupils and two non-teaching staff who have contracted Covid-19. We also confirm that we have 48 persons under investigation in the province, according to our statistics.”

EUSA complained that, “To make matters worse, over 5 teachers have already died.. We are yet to see more infections and death in the coming week.” 

Nevertheless, this spike in the COVID-19 spread has not led the government to reconsider the decision of reopening schools. Instead, Pulumani maintained, “After advice from the Health Department on who needs to isolate and after cleaning has been done, schooling can resume.”

The union had previously tried to reverse the decision to reopen schools by seeking an urgent interdict against it from the Pretoria High Court. However, the court ruled in favor of the Department of Education on June 10. Unions had pointed out at that time that a significant section of the public schools still lack the safety gear and the proper infrastructure needed to follow the safety precautions prescribed while operating during the COVID-19 pandemic

The demonstration on June 16 before the US embassy also seeks to remind the ANC-led government of the enormous sacrifices made by South Africans to overthrow the apartheid system. 

June 16, a national holiday in South Africa, is commemorated as Youth Day in memory of the martyrs of the Soweto Uprising led by the high-school students on this date in 1976 against the discriminatory education policy of the then Apartheid government.

“Natives [blacks] must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans [whites] is not for them,” the then Native Affairs Minister, Hendrik Verwoerd, who later went on to become a Prime Minister, had said, justifying a separate curriculum suited to the “nature and requirements of the black people.” 

26 years after the overthrow of this apartheid system in South Africa and establishment of democracy, a significant number of public schools catering to children from poor black working class families continue to lack toilets, running water and basic sanitation facilities. This renders them particularly vulnerable during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  

During the last 10 years in office as the education minister, “Angelina has failed” to address these problems, EUSA said. “Up to this day, we have schools that still have not received any PPEs. These schools are ignored and hidden through a restriction of visitors, including media”.

The union has further called for an end to “the two-tier private and public apartheid-like education system”, where the wealthy can afford quality education for their children in private schools which charge exorbitant fees, while the children from the majority of poor families are left with under-funded, ill-equipped schools as the only avenue to seek education.

Such an education system, the union maintains, is reminiscent of the one under apartheid, “designed to favor one race over the other.” 

However, “we.. know that these demands can never be met under the administration of Gogo Anegline Motshekga. Hence we call for her urgent removal so that we can start dealing with serious matters,” EUSA maintains.

Calling on other concerned organizations and individuals to join the protest march, the union has asked for advanced notification of their participation, “so that we can manage arrangements to observe social distancing” during the protest.