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Unions 'confident' schools will be closed after cabinet meets on Covid-19 risks

21 July 2020 - 13:20 By Prega Govender
Five teacher unions are pushing for government to close schools until after the peak in Covid-19 infections. File photo.
Five teacher unions are pushing for government to close schools until after the peak in Covid-19 infections. File photo.
Image: Sunday Times/Esa Alexander

The National Teachers Union (Natu) is confident that the cabinet will agree to close schools when it meets soon.

Natu and four other teacher unions met deputy basic education minister Reginah Mhaule for the second consecutive night on Monday following the unions’ proposal that schools close until the end of next month, after Covid-19 infections have peaked.

Allen Thompson, president of Natu, which has 67,000 members, said they were told  the unions’ position would be submitted to the cabinet, which "will take a decision on what we put on the table”.

He said they were also assured that if the cabinet meeting dragged on “basic education minister Angie Motshekga is going to sneak out and convene an urgent meeting to give us feedback before she addresses the media”.

Thompson said they were informed that a special cabinet meeting scheduled for last Sunday would take place on Tuesday.

“I am very confident they will close schools. The closing of schools is not only going to save the lives of teachers and pupils, but it’s also going to save the face of government because we have schools with matric pupils which have not yet opened.”

He said pupils attending the "privileged" schools “are steaming ahead with the curriculum while others [in rural and township schools] are being left behind". He said the department was aware of this.

“Some schools have not have been supplied with water for more than two weeks. Some were given mobile toilets and now suppliers are collecting those mobile toilets. We want to believe that this is because they are not being paid.”

Thompson said supplies of personal protective equipment [PPE] were also a problem.

“The only distribution they could make is for the first cohort [of pupils]. No proper arrangements were made for the second and third cohort.

“Closing schools  is not only going to save lives but it is also going to give the department time to rearrange itself. What they are seeing on the ground is not what they expected.”

He said schools were now also refusing to observe the standard operating procedures as they are not closing if a staff member or pupil  tests positive for the coronavirus.

“The best thing the basic education department can do is to close schools and go back to see that schools meet the Covid-19 requirements.”

However, Thompson conceded that government may not agree to their proposal to close schools until the end of next month “because they may be judged by the public as being run by the unions”.

“We said we will appreciate if they close schools, and after every two weeks come back to us to give us feedback on what they have done and what’s been achieved.”

Thompson said they were told that besides their submission, the department would also be presenting other reports to cabinet “for consideration”.

KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Kwazi Mshengu and the director general of basic education, Mathanzima Mweli, also attended Monday night's meeting.