Teachers triumph

Lynn Williams williamsl@avusa.co.za
IN a massive victory for Eastern Cape schools, more than 6000 temporary teachers are set to return to their posts next week after the Bhisho High Court ordered they be reinstated.
Yesterday‘s ruling comes after the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie (SAOU) and the Westering High and Primary schools took the provincial Education Department to court in a class action to have the teachers reinstated.
Their axing in December plunged schools in the province into disarray. Many had to cram up to 100 children into a class, while other pupils have not had any lessons since the beginning of the year.
The situation has led to heated protests by frustrated parents, who have threatened education officials and principals.
In the court order, Judge Jannie Eksteen said the department must fill all the temporary posts within five days. This means the reinstatement must occur on or before Monday.
The order is an interim one, meaning that Eksteen needs time to review the merits of the department‘s decision to axe the temporary teachers and, because this could be a lengthy process, the teachers should be reinstated until a final decision is reached.
In an affidavit before court, provincial Education Department superintendent-general Modidima Mannya said the main challenge for this school year was whether to retain the 69390 teachers, which could not be afforded, or reduce the number to one that could be afforded.
This, he said, was why the department could not reinstate or appoint the 6282 temporary teachers.
While department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani would only say they would consult their legal team before deciding on the way forward, a delighted Fedsas and SAOU said they would continue to use the justice system to ensure the needs and constitutional rights of pupils and teachers were honoured.
“We are grateful the court agrees with us, but what a sad state of affairs it is that we had to go to court to get the Education Department to change its tune,” the unions said.
“As usual, children are the victims, because schools in this province had to cope with a teacher shortage for five weeks,” said Paul Colditz and Chris Klopper, the chief executives of Fedsas and SAOU respectively.
Colditz said the court case had been the result of a decision by the department to try to solve its financial crisis by cutting teacher posts.
“Two days before the court case, the Eastern Cape head of education literally declared war against governing bodies by stating ‘this is war‘,” Colditz said.
“Fedsas and SAOU condemn such statements. We are role players in education, not enemies. The Schools Act clearly states we are partners and should act in the best interest of schools. Such irresponsible statements do not contribute to solving the problem.”
Colditz and Klopper said as far as the department‘s problems were concerned, this interim decision was but one victory.
Lawyer Michael Randell, who acts on behalf of Fedsas and SAOU, described the case as a “class action” because they represented not only their own members, but stepped up for the pupils, schools and teachers.
Northern Areas Education Forum chairman Trevor Fleur said the order was a “definite victory for all”.
Yesterday‘s order is the second against the Education Department this year. Just two weeks ago, Eastern Cape mud schools triumphed in a court battle against the department, securing R8.2-billion to eradicate mud schools in South Africa.
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