When teachers show resilience
MBABANE – The current dispute between teachers and government over a 4.5 per cent cost of living adjustment has somewhat developed into a war of attrition, with events replicating exactly what transpired in 1997.
This was when teachers went on a 35-day strike to force government to heed to their demand for an 18 per cent salary increment.
Heading the government then was Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini, who had been appointed just the previous year. We go back in time to give you a snapshot of what happened in 1997, when pupils for the first time in academic history, wrote exams under the barrel of a gun.
Soldiers were solicited to keep guard in examination rooms because teachers were nowhere in sight to monitor the exercise.
Coming back from a Commonwealth Summit, the King was disappointed to learn that a dispute over an 18 per cent salary increase demanded by teachers had not been resolved, a week after he had left the country.
Drawing the King’s attention to the issue was the fact that, for the first time in history, he was met at the airport by a group of demonstrating parents who were concerned by the disruption to their children’s academic activity caused by the strike.
Teachers had motivated parents to also take a stand, and highlight their plight.
The dispute had its roots in the previous year, 1996, when at some point the King also had to intervene, issuing a directive that teachers be paid back money withheld by government, in effecting the no-work-no pay rule during a month-long strike that threatened to ground the country’s education machinery.
According to then Swazi National Council member Bheka Mabuza, quoted in an interview with the Swazi News Editor which was published on October 18, 1997, "His Majesty took a decision that teachers should be paid back that money."
Heeding the royal command, teachers marched to Lozitha Palace bearing gifts to thank the King, and also seizing the opportunity to tell the head of state that they were not happy with the way government conducted itself over the issue of the demanded pay rise.
In a follow-up meeting with the King at Lozitha, according to Mabuza: "His Majesty had the last word. He directed that negotiations resume with a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect between the parties."
The negotiations resumed but eventually hit a snag.
Subsequently, on October 4, 1997 teachers announced that they would go on strike to force government to implement an 18 per cent salary increment. Government was willing to offer the teachers only eight per cent for the 1997 fiscal period, and 1.1 per cent for the previous year.
Teachers would hear none of that, and consequently resolved to stop working to show government they really meant business. The strike was set to start on October 13, 1997, a date that coincided with that of the beginning of external examinations for Form Three pupils.
The decision to go on strike was taken at a highly charged meeting, where teachers said it in no uncertain terms that they were tired of the tardy approach employed by government when addressing issues around their welfare. They said the action was meant to draw the attention of not only government, but also parents who entrust them with the duty to nurture their offspring in preparation of a better future life almost on a daily basis.
Teachers at the time capitalised on the close proximity of the external examinations involving first Form Three (Junior Certificate) candidates and later Form Fives.
Indeed, the examinations failed to take off as planned. Dr Ben Dlamini, then Chief Examinations Officer, halted the scheduled examinations, a decision which prompted the then Minister of Education Solomon Dlamini to announce that they would again begin at a later date.
Again, the minister clashed with teachers when he ordered the re-opening of schools, to which the educators would not budge; insisting that their strike action was still on, and that only the meeting of their demands by government would avert their strike action.
The strike had gone on for only five days then.
‘Blame it on Tinkhundla’
MBABANE – The labour unrest dogging the country at the moment has its basis on a lack of a philosophy in the incumbent Tinkhundla system of governance.
This is an opinion expressed by Dr Phineus Magagula, who was SNAT Deputy President in 1997.
Asked for comment on what he thought was the reason why each time there was an issue that needed to be resolved between educators and their employer, there had to be some form of a battle, Dr Magagula, said: "We do not really know their philosophy, they do not have a manifesto. If we had such a document, probably we would judge their actions based on that," he said.
Magagula was speaking in a telephonic interview with this newspaper, where he expressed great disappointment in the manner in which government treated those in its employ. "If we were aware of government’s manifesto, we would use it to challenge their actions. At present it is just one big muddle," said Magaguka.
He said the dispute pitting government against its employees weighed its heavy toll on service delivery, advising that government should swallow its pride by giving teachers what is due to them. "What is happening is a great disservice to the children whose performance is directly affected by this. "An end to the dispute would surely ensure success for our future leaders," he opined.
Government is however, not convinced that the country’s problems were a product of the nature of relations between those at the helm of power and the governed.
The Times Sunday spoke to Spokesperson Percy Simelane who said the system of governance, Tinkhundla, had nothing to do with the unrest in the country - as manifested in the teachers’ strike action. "The current unrest is officially about salary increments, at a time when the country; like the rest of Africa and the world at large, is facing economic challenges emanating from the global economic meltdown," he insisted.
He scoffed at the suggestion that the system had no philosophy, saying: "Not even Aristotle’s – the father of philosophy – country has been spared the economic slowdown. "So, it is not about lack of philosophy, credo or ideology on the part of government."
It should be noted that the philosopher king, Aristotle, whom the government spokesperson referred to was Greek.
He said government’s philosophy, as embedded in the Tinkhundla system of governance was known, which he maintained was the reason why there were "people fighting it."
"The system believes in development and peace."In this system, during elections a candidate is not imposed on the electorate but nominated by the people at grass-roots level," he said, emphasising that this was direct representation to Parliament. "This is democracy at it’s best."
Public school teachers have abandoned classrooms, demanding a 4.5 per cent cost of living adjustment, as per inflation rate.
The dispute has undergone all conflict resolution procedures, as stipulated by the country’s labour laws. Negotiations have hit a cul-de-sac, and there seems to be no end in sight.
Teachers are very angry, and this was evident in the words of SNAT President Sibongile Mazibuko in an earlier interview. "Teachers are getting angry every day," she said.
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