BASIC Education Minister Angie Motshekga has found an unlikely ally in the form of Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille.
Department spokesman Panyaza Lesufi said yesterday that the minister “appreciates support regardless from where it comes”, after Zille wrote an opinion piece defending Motshekga’s performance.
“Education in the country is in the best hands,” Lesufi added. “The minister knows education like the palm of her hand.”
In the article in the Cape Argus, Zille said Motshekga was the only minister who has ever fully understood the importance of textbooks, and the only minister who has insisted there must be textbooks for every pupil in every subject in every class. “The national government is confined to establishing norms and standards frameworks or national policies, and then only in specific conditions,” Zille wrote.
“Provinces have extensive powers to pass and implement their own laws. And provinces actually run the school system.
“The question is, has Angie Motshekga fulfilled her constitutional responsibilities? On the basis of the record, she has done so to a far greater degree than any of her predecessors. She actually understands conditions in the average disadvantaged classroom.
“As a result she is trying to develop norms, standards, policies and frameworks that take account of reality. That on its own, is a giant leap forward for education,” she said.
About the non-delivery of textbooks in Limpopo, Zille wrote: “This is because there was no money left in that mismanaged province’s budget for textbooks.”
Zille also blasted journalists, who she said “hunt in packs”, and singled out columnist William Saunderson-Meyer for turning his guns on the media’s current favourite “hate target”.
She blamed the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) for the education crisis in the Eastern Cape.
“Sadtu runs education in the Eastern Cape. It is complete chaos. Modidima Mannya was installed as the Eastern Cape superintendent general of education, backed by Minister Motshekga, to take on Sadtu and sort out the mess. He tried. But he was blocked at every turn when he tried to deal with the burgeoning numbers of temporary teachers employed in many schools despite the high number of excess teachers.
“Sadtu won because it knows how to wield its power in the ANC’s internal power struggles. Sadtu holds the balance of power in Cosatu’s pro-and anti-Zuma factions. So it is unsurprising that the president backed Sadtu against Motshekga. Mannya was forced out. And Motshekga got the blame,” Zille said.
Sadtu secretary-general Mugwena Maluleke said Zille’s statements were meant to flatter Motshekga and to garner support for the DA.
“Anything that can score cheap political points is good for Zille. How do you say a minister has delivered when children learn under trees in 2013? Has Helen Zille ever supported anybody from the ANC?” he asked.
Wits journalism Professor Anton Harber was more positive. “Good on Helen Zille for forcing journalists to take a closer look at a story and showing that sometimes comment is easy and real reporting – finding out the facts for oneself – can be hard work,” Harber said. “I am not sure she is right about the minister – who, after all, has to take responsibility for failures in the department – but it is a good thing to force a hunting pack to think about what they are doing.”
Lesufi was also critical of journalists, saying the media owed South Africans an apology for misguiding them.