Union rivalry disrupts teaching at KZN school

Conflict between NATU and SADTU has been ongoing at Emzamweni High

Photo of school with hundreds of pupils outside

Last week, learners locked all the teachers out of Emzameni High School in KwaMnyandu, Pietermaritzburg. Photo: Nompendulo Ngubane

By Nompendulo Ngubane

7 February 2020

Twelve teachers at Emzameni High School in KwaMnyandu, Pietermaritzburg, were locked out of the school premises by parents on Monday. Last week, learners locked all the teachers out of the school.

At issue are tensions between rival unions: 35 teachers belong to the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU); 12 teachers are members of the National Teachers Union (NATU). Members of the two unions detest each other.

Learners at the school told GroundUp that due to clashes between the teachers, they have been missing classes. This is why they locked all teachers out of the school in the January protest.

The principal of the school, Nhlanhla Ngubane, said he would not comment on the matter.

“Teachers would come to class and sometimes they wouldn’t,” said a grade 12 female learner. “We noticed that some teachers were sitting in their cars while others were sitting in the staff room. It reached an extent of some teachers not teaching us at all.”

“We are tired of coming to the school for nothing. Their problems must not affect us. We are at school for education and nothing else,” said the learner.

She said teachers even exchanged words in front of the learners.

A male learner said: “The teachers must sort out their differences and get back to classes … We won’t choose or take any sides. We want teaching to continue.”

A teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said differences between the groups started to heat up in October, but it has always been simmering.

“There are two groups which cannot stand each other … There are some teachers who were called names by others. Twelve teachers then decided not to attend school but instead reported to the circuit office every day. The tension was very high and the name calling was rife,” she said.

When parents locked the “Big 12”, who are all female teachers, out of the school on 3 February, the police were called.

“These are the ones who are not teaching our children. We want them out of the school. [We want] teachers who are prepared to teach our children. The community has all the power, not them. They must go,” a parent told GroundUp.

SADTU Provincial Secretary Nomarashiya Caluza condemned the conflict and said it should not be allowed to affect teaching. “Emzameni is a big school and it should be expected that there would be more than one union. The principal must play his role in ensuring that teachers are united, regardless of which union they belong to. He must not take sides … Teachers end up reporting to the circuit office because they have lost trust and faith in the principal,” said Caluza.

She urged the learners and parents not to be part of the school conflict.

On Tuesday, School Governing Body Chairperson Dumisani Mbanjwa said, “Only five of the 12 teachers were allowed to come back. The other six, who were leaders, will wait until the department investigates the matter. As parents we were not happy with what is happening.”

After a meeting at the school with the District Director and the Chief Director on Wednesday, spokesperson for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education Muzi Mahlambi, said: “All educators are [now back] hard at work … It is however worth noting that some parents were still adamant that those 12 educators must go, but the department took none of that as all educators have to be at school teaching.”

“We also cannot hide the fact that there are some parents who are hell bent on disrupting that school … We are carefully monitoring the situation.”

GroundUp tried several times but was unable to reach NATU for comment.