Who watches the watchmen? SADTU, SACE and the insidiousness of corruption


In the first or second century AD the Roman satirist Juvenal asked “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” which translates to “Who will watch the watchmen?” or “Who will guard the guards?” – a pithy quote about where ultimate power does or should reside, and highlighting that all are corruptible. The latest manifestation of this seems to be with the South African Council of Educators (SACE). On their website they explain that “SACE is the professional council for educators, that aims to enhance the status of the teaching profession through appropriate registration, management of professional development and inculcation of a code of ethics for all educators.” Unfortunately this is, at best, an aspirational Facebook status.

My first encounter with SACE was during a Section 5 Committee meeting of the SA Human Rights Commission (I am on the advisory committee for education). As part of an investigation into corporal punishment at schools we requested that officials from both the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and SACE attend the meeting and answer our questions. In that investigation there were numerous instances of corporal punishment, I have even heard of one instance of a 9 year old girl that was “disciplined” by the principal and ended up dying in hospital a little while later. As part the same investigation there were numerous stories emerging about some teachers and principals sexually assaulting their students. This was especially offensive to me and became the issue I asked the DBE and SACE about when they were at the meeting. As it turns out, if a teacher is dismissed for sexually assaulting a student – which is very rare (being dismissed that is) – they should be struck from the SACE roll so that they cannot get another teaching job in South Africa. Unfortunately this is just how it works in theory, not in practice. In practice what usually happens is that the provincial education department (who is the employer) dismisses the teacher and will not rehire them at another school in the province. However, during the investigation – and after many explicit questions – it emerged that the provincial education departments do not share a common database of registered or disbarred teachers, either with each other, or with SACE (whose database systems are totally shambolic). So there is nothing stopping this dismissed teacher leaving the province where they sexually assaulted a student and moving to another province where they can be employed as a teacher. There are no electronic records that are available to either the receiving province or the receiving principal. I distinctly remember the awkward shuffling and sheepish looks when I asked the DBE official: “Please can you be explicit and tell us if there are any functional systems currently in place that prevent a teacher who has been dismissed for sexual misconduct from being rehired by another school in another province?” To which the answer was “Our databases are not currently linked so that is theoretically possible, yes.” Which obviously shocked everyone at the Section 5 Committee meeting.

That was the first sign to me that SACE is a totally dysfunctional institution that is all form and very little function. The most recent, and even more disturbing revelation is that it seems that this institution has been captured by the major teacher union SADTU. Sipho Masondo reported in the City Press last week that in October last year the DBE and SACE launched separate investigations into the allegations that SADTU officials were selling teaching and administrative positions (see here for the detailed and damning expose). The DBE’s investigation, headed by a friend of mine Prof John Volmink, is yet to be finalized and released. However, Sipho’s article reports that  “a source within the SACE, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told City Press that Sadtu’s executives approached the council’s chief operating officer, Tsedi Dipholo, and asked her to drop the investigation after the names of the union’s leaders in branches, regions and provinces started cropping up.” – something that she readily complied with. Promptly after this the investigation was wrapped up, has never been released and found no wrong-doing whatsoever. SACE CEO Rej Brijraj explains that “We spent four months investigating. There was a very strong rumour that persisted, but we couldn’t find a single bit of evidence. The rumours were strong, but no evidence or witnesses were brought forward for us to prosecute. We were given leads, but they yielded nothing and we had to stop.

Both of these instances, depicting incompetence and corruption respectively, deserve our serious attention. SACE is the body that is supposed to be regulating the profession and preventing disrepute and degradation, yet it is the very organization that is complicit in this degradation.

We need to ask: Who will watch the watchmen? Who will regulate the regulators? The Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga should request a Ministerial Task Team to look into the functionality of SACE and whether it actually can or does accomplish what it is mandated to do. But, and this is crucial, it is not good enough to simply order a task team, you actually have to do something with the results. When and if the Volmink report is actually released the biggest question I have is “So what?” What happens to the findings and recommendations? Probably the same thing that happened with the Limpopo textbook enquiry – a little more investigation here, a little staff shuffling over there, but essentially no consequences. This is perhaps one of the biggest issues facing our education system – the lack of accountability – i.e. the lack of consequences – in our education system. The process of writing this blog post has given me sufficient energy to edit some of my opening remarks for the OR Tambo Debate which I will publish as a blog post now…

In all of this we need to remember who is most affected by this widespread ineptitude and corruption in the education system. It is the poor, mostly Black African, children of South Africa that are condemned to lives of poverty and unemployment, no different to their parents and care-givers. That is the real tragedy here.

2 responses to “Who watches the watchmen? SADTU, SACE and the insidiousness of corruption

  1. Thabang Motsohi

    Dear Nic,

    Please accept my compliments for a persistent focus on matters of education quality. I have written extensively about the destructive influence of SADTU in public education. Unfortunately the victims are the majority poor black children. The middle and upper classes have choices in both education and health provision.

    I published an article on the “post for payment” practices of SADTU almost two years before the City Press exposed the issue. I also challenged the SADTU on the destabilising practice that was code-named operation Gudluza ( shake down) in the some of the KZN districts especially in the Vryheid area. They used this approach to destabilise stable and successful schools which were run by principals who resisted the strategy of SADTU to spread their hegemony. Some targeted principals were forced to resign and unfortunately others were killed. I even provocatively asked whether these actions were not in fact “counter revolutionary” as their outcome had the single result of impeding the progress of the poor black child. I also questioned the successful efforts that frustrated the introduction of a performance management framework within the system.

    The fundamental weakness in the “post for payment” inquiry is that it was not a judicial process despite the fact that the practices under investigation were allegedly criminal in intent and outcome! Unless the evidence was obtained under a judicial process and protection, it was doomed to fail. I question the intention of the minister in the whole effort!

    Kind regards

    Thabang Motsohi
    Strategy Consultant
    Tel: +27(0) 11 465 3659 | Fax: +27(0) 11 465 6211 | Fax: +27 (0) 86 677 8202 |Mobile: +27(0) 83 408 3702
    Lenomo Strategic Advisory Services
    Strategy; Leadership Development; Executive Coaching

  2. Having had first hand experience of this situation I just want to thank and honour you for writing about this shocking situation. To think that people have died for this.

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