Protesting ABET teachers demand better working conditions

The disgruntled St Francis ABET Learning Centre in Gugulethu are seen protesting in the institution locked manager and staff room's office foyer. Photos by Mandla Mnyakama

A group of protesting teachers from the Gugulethu-based St Francis Adult Learning Centre locked up the Western Cape’s Higher Education and Training Department’s officials in the school’s office for more than two hours and released them after an amicable deal was reached.

Guguletu, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

A group of protesting teachers from the Gugulethu-based St Francis Adult Learning Centre locked up the Western Cape’s Higher Education and Training Department’s officials in the school’s office for more than two hours and released them after an amicable deal was reached.

The disgruntled teachers who are affiliated to the South African Abet Education Union (SAAEU) embarked on the action by locking themselves in the manager’s office and the staff room foyer together with the institution’s Centre Manager.

The protesters simultaneously left another group of teachers who did not support the protest crammed in the staff room and unable to move around after they locked both burglar gates of the entrance hall.

“Forward with adult education! There should be proper salaries for all educators and the R50 payment by the learners must fall!” they shouted amid the chants of liberation songs.

They are against what they term the continued exploitation and underpayment of teachers, their poor working conditions, as well as the newly introduced rule by the Department of Higher Education and Training that learners should make R50 monthly payments for each subject they are taught.

The R50 monthly payments introduced in September was reportedly meant to supplement the income of the Adult Basic Education Training (ABET) teachers who are allegedly paid by the department half of the salaries earned by the Grade 12 teachers at the school.

Xoliswa Hulla, the SAAEU Chairperson in the Western Cape explained that ABET teachers are under-valued by the department despite the fact that they possess the same qualifications as highschool teachers.

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“It is a serious blunder, because the ABET teachers are as experienced as those who teach Grade 12s,  but they are being paid half of what their colleagues earn.”

The hiring of private security guards to protect the school from armed thugs who terrorise learners, stealing their cash, cellphone and other belongings inside the school premises, was also highlighted in the protesters’ grievances.

The protesters want the authorities to provide better working conditions for the teachers by supplying them with adequate teaching materials, urgently fixing and properly maintaining dysfunctional and vandalised toilets, and replacing dilapidated desks and broken classroom doors.

Spencer Tonkin and another officials pitched up at the school just before midday after being urgently summoned by the visibly frustrated centre manager.

Tonkin and his colleague also found themselves unable to leave the premises after he convened a breakaway meeting with a small group of teachers from the staff of 22 members.

“Because our centre manager failed to co-operate with us when we tried to raise these issues with her, we presently demand the senior officer we have here with us today to rectify these issues because they keep us very uncomfortable.

“We vow to keep them locked up until they resolve the matter because it is something that tramples on the rights of these hard working teachers. It has also immensely affected learners,” said Hulla.

She accused Tonkin of failing them after an alleged promise he made to resolve the issues during a previous meeting earlier this year.

“We will continue to hold this particular school in the same manner until all our concerns are resolved,” she declared.

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The centre with over 700 learners was opened as a first satellite of the St Francis ABET Learning Centre in Langa after the closure of the institution in 2013.

Songezo Primary school where the St Francis ABET Learning Centre is being run from. Photo by Mandla Mnyakama

Hazel Makoti, an ABET teacher for five years said she wished that the government would consider the grievances seriously because the division in their salary standards has created tensions between them.

Welile Sikampula (25) from Gugulethu and one of the learners who is currently improving five commercial matric subjects he passed in 2011, rejected the idea of the monthly payments.

“I stopped attending here last year because I could not afford the prevous R600 they demanded for a subject and I returned this year because I heard that education was free but now I find it shocking that we were required to pay R50 for a subject.

“I am against it. It must stop because all of us come from disadvantaged homes. We will rather utilise that cash for our own transportation because some of us come from areas such as Khayelitsha,” said Sikampula.

Thozama Japhta (48) from Khayelitsha who improved three subject from her matric which she passed in 1998 said she rejects the new rule. She had only been aware of the R600 registration fee.

Tonkin and his colleague were eventually released after a lengthy period inside the small office,. He condemned the teachers’ action.

“The type of action the teachers embarked on is very wrong. All we would like to do is to sit down with them and resolve whatever issues they have,” he said.

 

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