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SAFTU statement on Matric results and education crisis

A young South African girl (from the Xhosa tribe) works on her studies at an old worn desk in a class room in the Transkei region of rural South Africa. Closeup image focuses on her hand and pen - her hand is scarred from a burn accident.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions congratulates all the 75.1% of learners – and their teachers, families and school governing bodies – who passed their Matric and wishes them well for the future.

We urge those who could not make it not to despair but to go back and work hard during this year in order to pass. Going out of the system with the hope that they will get some job will be disastrous for them.

The future for many of those who passed will also be very challenging. They will be entering a world in which job opportunities are shrinking by the day. Even those who fight their way into tertiary education will have no guarantee of employment after they graduate.

Our unemployment rate of 36,7% is six times more than the world average and it not getting any better but worse by the day. It is even worse for the youth which recorded a rate of of 55,90% in the second quarter of 2017. That’s why SAFTU will be embarking on strike action to demand that government take concrete steps to address this crisis.

And we must not forget that of the 1 185 198 learners who were enrolled for Grade 1 in 2006 only 651 707 learners sat for the matric exams in 2017, meaning that 533 491 learners – 41% – did not even participate in the 2017 matric exams. We can only hope that this 41% is still in the system. This demonstrates beyond doubt that our public education system remains in a crisis.

For those of the 533 491 who have left the system, now joined by those who have failed their Matric and given up trying again, the future could not be bleaker,. They have virtually no chance of any secure or decently paid work in the foreseeable future. Most of them will join the growing army of marginalized vulnerable workers dependent on occasional odd jobs and the generosity of family members.

That’s why SAFTU urges them to rather stay within the system and work harder in 2018.

The results reflect the continuing two-tier structure of South Africa’s schools. The almost 99% pass rate among those learners who wrote the Independent Examination Board exams can only happen because their rich parents could afford to pay for well-funded and well-equipped private schools, while the poor majority who wrote the National Senior Certificate exams come from under-resourced, ill-equipped public schools, especially in the rural areas.

For those who have passed Matric, attention now switches to the crisis in the universities. This follows President Zuma’s opportunist pledge, just before the ANC National Conference, that he was going to implement free tertiary education for poor students.

He and his ministers have yet to explain properly who will qualify for free education, when it will become available and how it will be financed and administered. University authorities claim they were not even consulted about this plan and are pressing ahead with fee increases.

The Minister of Higher Education has since stated that it will apply to students whose families earn less than R350 000 per annum. What we don’t know is how the family income will be established, where the money will come from and whether all the students who passed many years ago – but ended up in jobs like security and cashiers in the food chain because of the financial exclusions – can now enroll for 2018? What about those who dropped out years ago? Must they now return? Exactly how will this policy be phased in for five years?

All this is likely to lead to chaos, as thousands of matriculants who cannot afford university fees, will now apply for admission on the basis of what Zuma appears to have promised but which is not likely to be available for this year’s students.

SAFTU reaffirms its support for free education at all levels and will join the students when they renew the #FeesMustFall campaign, in support of their genuine demand for scrapping fees, in line with the Freedom Charter’s call that “Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children”.

This, as the federation has shown, is neither unaffordable nor unfeasible. The money could be just by reversing the situation where today corporate income tax paid by companies has fallen from 54% in the apartheid era of their income to 28% now.

Equal Education have added another 15 recommendations on other ways to fund education through, for example, cutting the bloated Cabinet, reducing the employment of consultants, stamping out tax evasion by the very wealthy, a wealth tax and for scrapping the failing R2bn youth wage subsidy.

This is not what the government is planning. Zuma’s opportunist plan is a sham, because he has bankrupted the country through neoliberal, pro-business economic strategies, reduced the economy to junk status, and turned an economic crisis into a nightmare through the corruption and looting of the country, and the political instability this has caused.

As Equal Education further said: “President Jacob Zuma’s reported plan to introduce free higher education for one year at a cost of R40 billion, and at the expense of crucial social services, must be rejected. Reports are that school infrastructure; black PhD students, social grants and homes are all on the chopping block. We cannot allow Zuma to pit poor and working class black students against school children, pensioners and shack-dwellers…We reject the manipulation of legitimate demands and a vital social struggle for narrow political ends.”

We are determined to keep up the campaign for the Freedom Charter’s demand that “The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened!” to all South Africans. SAFTU submitted a Section 77 notice in December 2016 and one of its demands was that education must be free, compulsory, decolonised and high-quality throughout the system.  We now have a right to embark on a protected strike should a need arise.

We are mobilising our members to reject further austerity measurers based on the so-called instruction of the President to the Minister of Finance to cut expenditure by R25 million whilst increasing taxes to raise R15 billion in order to raise resources for the so-called free education. We call on all workers and all progressive civil society formations to join hands to resist neoliberalism, austerity and this opportunistic manipulation that amounts to a typical example of robing Peter to pay Paul.