Research tells us that a disconcertingly large number of Americans fear the Illuminati, the Knights Templar and the Elders of Zion. These gullible souls swallow the air candy of the conspiracy theorists that such evil organisations are plotting global domination, although there’s no evidence that they even exist beyond the imagination of the likes of Dan Brown, author of the blockbuster Da Vince Code.

The Brits in turn plump for machinating Freemasons – an organisation that at least does exist – as having a sinister albeit waning influence within government, the judiciary and the police. And in South Africa we twisted at the hands of the Broederbond, which for almost 50 years did more to advance the interests of white, Afrikaner males against all comers, than a century of legislated affirmative action will ever be able to achieve for their black counterparts.

The real scourge when it comes to impending doom, however, is not a secret society. The most dangerous organisation, given the chaos and ignorance that it demonstrably has left in its wake over the past two decades, is the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu).

Jostling at the hoof heels of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is Sadtu, astride its dunce’s donkey, Ignorance. For while Death is inevitable, lack of education is the single most effective facilitator of War, Pestilence and Famine.

This week Sadtu cheerfully washed its hands of the appalling state of the country’s educational system, saying that its only priority is the interests of its members. It was reacting to a rebuke from Congress of SA Trade Unions’ general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who said that the federation had to account for the silence of teachers, which had made possible the recent debacle of Limpopo pupils suffering for months without schoolbooks.

Sadtu’s general secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, is technically correct. It is not the duty of a union to discipline its members. That is the responsibility of the employer, while the union’s job is to make sure that the procedures followed are fair.

Maluleke, however, is being disingenuous. Sadtu has a responsibility wider than bread-and-butter membership matters. Its members are employed specifically to advance the educational welfare of public school pupils and hence Sadtu is honour bound to assist them to achieve this.

Sadtu has instead perversely used its muscle to intimidate the government, to thwart necessary reforms and controls, and to pursue outcomes that damage the kids under its members care. The professionalism and commitment that is a critical component of an educator’s job is entirely absent from Sadtu’s way of operating.

Sadtu’s knee-jerk response to the absence of textbooks in Limpopo schools – unreported by its members but uncovered by educational NGOs – was to threaten a province-wide strike unless their members were paid for the extra work resulting from the education department’s catch-up plans. That’s the kind of bayoneting-the-wounded tactic at which Sadtu excels and with which it has stubbornly blocked every attempt at critical educational reform relating to teacher accountability, commitment or competence

According to government figures, a fifth of teachers in public schools do not show up for work on Mondays, rising to a third at the end of the month. In any given year, Sadtu is responsible for the lion’s share of strike and go-slow activity in the country.

As a result, SA performs near the bottom of every international marker for literacy and numeracy, including those for the African continent – a region not renowned for quality schooling. This despite SA spending R190 billion a year, a fifth of the national budget, on education.

The union’s ability to deploy more than a quarter of a million militants explains why the government is so poep-scared of it. Only counter-mobilisation by the 12 million pupils in state schools, backed by their more than 20 million parents, will likely curb Sadtu – Soweto 1976 for the new era, with a remastered motto, “no liberation without education”.


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.


William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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