Friday, July 29, 2011

Sadtu's baleful influence

This short letter was published in the Sunday Times on July 24, 2011. I wrote it in response to several examples of people in power demonstrating that when it comes to acting morally, they are prepared to fudge issues at random. Anyway, the national newspaper chose to edit my letter quite severely, so I am including my original below. However, the letter may have spurred ST journalist Chris Barron to grill a senior Education official along similar lines.

My published letter is above. Click on it to read it in larger format. Below is my original, which cited two further instances of moral torpidity.

A reading of the Review section of the Sunday Times last week (July 17) provided a disturbing insight into the moral malaise afflicting this country. Three points stood out:

- In his article on education, the DA's Wilmot James referred to the Education International congress in Cape Town from July 22 to 26. While many of Wilmot's suggestions for resolving the education crisis hit the mark, it did not seem to occur to him that the fact that Sadtu was hosting the gathering during a school term was symptomatic of the very union-induced failure besetting education. Three of the days earmarked for the conference are school days. How many teachers will sacrifice time they should be spending with their pupils to attend this conference? This just a week after their three-week midyear holidays.

- President Jacob Zuma's new (old) spin doctor, Mac Maharaj, confesses to S'thembiso Msomi in an interview that in cases like Cooperative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka – who is accused of using R160 000 in public funds to fly family members around the country – Zuma will not fire him because “we don't like to drop a person. And that is a good quality.” In other words, when it comes to the ANC, every cadre is untouchable.

- Business Unity SA executive member Sandile Zungu uses similar logic to justify having chief government spokesman Jimmy Manyi as head of the Black Management Forum. Chris Barron asked him if black business was likely to speak “without fear or favour” against nationalisation when “one of its most influential leaders is the government's chief spokesman”. Zungu said there was “a school of thought which says it enhances that because of access and reach”. Asked if it doesn't “compromise its independence”, he said: “Independence is not enhanced by dissociation, necessarily.” So he's saying it is possible to be critical of government while being its chief spokesman. What dangerous nonsense.

This is a section of an interview which Chris Barron conducted for his So Many Questions column in the Sunday Times of July 24, 2011. He was speaking to the director general of Basic Education, Bobby Soobrayan in the light of the Sadtu conference I referred to, and to two reports which spoke of Sadtu's baleful influence on education. As usual, Barron was brilliant in pinning his subject down. I often wonder how he does these interviews. It is in person or over the phone. What they constitute, however, is an object lesson in how to speak truth to power. Now if only we could see our politicians - including Malema - put under similar pressure on national TV, preferably by someone as informed and fearless as Chris Barron seems to be.

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