Minister Angie Motshekga has done the unthinkable. Speaking at an education lekgotla in Centurion last week, the Minister took no prisoners. She told the stakeholders, including the teachers’ unions, that under-perfoming principals and district directors should be fired with immediate effect; that action be taken against teachers in “former African schools” who teach for only3.5 hours a day, in comparison with the 6.5 hours taught by those in former Model C schools; that every child should receive his or her own textbook at the start of the academic year.

No doubt it was for the first time that an ANC minister spoke out in the manner that she did. It was refreshing to hear an ANC minister criticise the dismal track record of the party in the area of education since the dawn of democracy.  There is unanimity in the country that education is probably the worst failure of the ANC government since it came to power more than twenty years ago.

Motshekga goes on to lament that ‘when we ushered in the new South Africa in 1994, we vowed to create a single national education system that delivers quality education to all.” We all know that there are two systems of education in South Africa today. The first comprises high performing private schools and former Model C schools that deliver quality education. The second is a dysfunctional component comprising rural and township schools where very little work is done, condemning millions of young minds to the social under class.

The ANC government is not serious about education in South Africa. ANC leaders at all levels send their children to private and Model C schools; it is only the children of the workers, COSATU members, who are taught for 3.5 hours a day by SADTU members who are affiliates of COSATU. Even these SADTU teachers send their children to Model C schools. Every ANC leader knows this.

Soon after his ascension to power in 2009, President Zuma called on teachers to “be at school everyday, on time and teaching.” I was personally inspired and encouraged by this call from the highest office in the land. Sadly, the president never showed any serious interest in the matter beyond the inspiring speech. Had he been seized of the matter since then, our education system would be yielding better results today.

For Motshekga to refer to our education system as a “national catastrophe” characterised by “pockets of disasters” is shocking indeed. Now that the minister has been brutally honest with the nation about the state of our education, can we expect, to borrow her words, “a paradigm shift.”

Will we as a nation see a new department of Education reclaiming its position in society to lead and provide better education for our children? Will the minister stand up to the bullying tactics of the unions, especially SADTU? Will the president of the country, his cabinet and the ruling party in Luthuli House take the battle to those responsible for dysfunctionality in our education? Will we see the dismissal of lazy teachers and incompetent principals?

I have always argued that quality education is largely a result of devoted teachers doing their best for their learners. All other things serve as support systems. Yes, we need computers, toilets, learning materials in schools in order for the system to perform optimally. However, if unionised and lazy teachers drag their feet to class, we are a losing nation. When union bosses capture provincial education departments and call the shots we will end up with a “national catastrophe.”

The minister also lashes out against her colleagues in the provinces. She complains about “provincial departments that do not manage their departments properly; a lack of infrastructure such as furniture and sanitation; poor teacher morale and a shortage of textbooks.” She concluded her speech by saying that “we allow mediocrity to spread like cancer to the highest echelons of the basic education system, thereby threatening the very foundation of the system.”

This means that the minister herself must clean up the provinces, especially perennial underperformers like the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Limpopo. She needs to talk to the Premiers of these provinces to assist the MECs to take action without fear of losing their jobs. She must ensure that incompetent HODs and senior managers in the provinces are removed and replaced with competent ones irrespective of political affiliation. She must fight harmful cadre deployment.

The next thing that the minister needs to do is to reclaim the authority of the Department in education. She must rally her provincial MECs to war. She must be prepared for a brutal and protracted warfare with the unions in the same way that Margaret Thatcher went to war with the mining unions in Britain. To succeed in her war, the minister needs the unequivocal support of president Zuma, the cabinet and the African National Congress. It must be a war that ends with the victory of government over the unions.

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