The 27000-member Educators Union of SA (Eusa) has vowed to forcibly shut down schools as it ramps up its message that “a dead teacher cannot teach, and a dead learner cannot learn”.
The pressure comes as Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi and his officials were expected to meet student and union leaders following protests over the surge of Covid-19 infections, including the death of four teachers, one retired, at the weekend.
Pupils were on Monday turned away from schools on the West Rand in what appears to be in support of the teachers unions’ call to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to close schools until the Covid-19 peak has passed.
The protests were further escalated after reports of deaths of teachers in Fochville and Khutsong as well as a mine area of Driefontein, which was recently declared a virus hotspot after scores of mineworkers in the area were allowed to return to work after the relaxation of the lockdown to level 4.
Eusa president Sicelo Bhengu told The Star that his union and its allies were not afraid of law enforcement and were prepared to be arrested in confronting the “sheer arrogance and gross attitude” of Motshekga.
Bhengu said that if Motshekga did not announce the closure of schools to curb the spread of the virus, Eusa would embark on a programme of shutting down schools which the union believes are not compliant with health regulations.
“We are not worried about the law enforcement agencies. We are more than prepared to be arrested fighting to protect the innocent lives of teachers and learners,” Bhengu said.
He said that the union was working with its allies, Parents Against the Reopening of Schools, Progressive Students Movement and several school governing body associations to carry out its plans for the forced closure of schools.
“Eusa has a WhatsApp and call number where teachers are reporting those non-compliant schools. We have talked with the Department of Labour to accompany us to verify the non- compliance,” Bhengu said.
On Monday, the family of Bukiwe Mashishi, 45, a vernacular teacher at Letsatsing Combined School in Driefontein, Carletonville, confirmed that she was one of the four teachers who had died due to Covid-19.
Her sister, Zoleka Mashila, confirmed that Mashishi tested positive for Covid-19 on July 3 and was admitted to Fountains Hospital after suffering from complications on July 12.
Mashila said the family was unable to visit her in hospital due to the Covid-19 regulations.
“As a result of losing contact with my sister, I made efforts to contact hospital management. When I finally spoke to one of the doctors responsible for her, she informed me that my sister had damage to her lungs but the hospital was doing their best to assist her.”
SA Democratic Teachers Union Carletonville branch chairperson Bobo Morolong said Mashishi was one of the four teachers who had died over the weekend.
Morolong said two teachers died at Khutsong schools in the township and another was from neighbouring Wedela township.
He said that various other teachers on the West Rand had succumbed to Covid-19 in the past two weeks. He said his branch made regular reports to their regional leadership to allow it to bring their plight to the attention of education authorities.
“This is enough for the minister to shut down the schools until the peak of the virus has passed,” Morolong said.
Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga, however, slammed the planned disruptions by Eusa, and called on law enforcement to deal with the “rude” organisation.
“Eusa is disgruntled because they are too small to sit at the bargaining chamber. So they resort to insults and conduct themselves in a rude manner when expressing their frustration.
“The minister has concluded the consultation process. She is now processing a comprehensive report through the structure of government and eventually with the National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet.
“We want to call on all those who are using illegal means to disrupt schools, including those who are appropriating themselves the authority of closing schools which they don’t have in law, to stop this immediately.
Schooling was on Monday disrupted in several schools in the West Rand as part of the campaign to force Motshekga to shut down the schools due to the surge of Covid-19.
Pupils were forced to go home in Bekkersdal, Mohlakeng and Magaliesberg, and other neighbouring towns.
Gauteng Education spokesperson Steven Mabona confirmed the disruptions. He said that education authorities would meet stakeholders today “to come up with an amicable solution”.
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