South Africa: COVID-19 - SADTU Members Quit Schools to Mourn Dead Colleagues

Teaching was disrupted on Wednesday in many schools in the Eastern Cape after South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) members left to mourn colleagues who died from Covid-19.

At Gertrude Shope Primary School in Govan Mbeki Township in Port Elizabeth, the School Governing Body (SGB) allowed the union members to leave the school, while teachers and support staff who are not members of SADTU continued to teach 77 grade 7 learners.

On Tuesday SADTU members picketed in front of the Port Elizabeth Education District offices and demanded that schools be closed from grades R to 11.

Eighteen teachers have died of Covid-19 in the province since the reopening of schools last month, according to Loyiso Pulumani, provincial education spokesperson.

Mazotsho Dukwe, SADTU regional chairperson in the Western Region, said schools in Nelson Mandela Bay had "a high infection rate".

"We have about 55 schools that have been infected and about ten teachers who have passed away. Some of them are very sick in hospitals."

"These schools are closed for seven to 14 days when there is an infection. Then they reopen and close again. We therefore call on the Department to shut down all schools from grade R to 11. The Department must also move the Grade 12s from the schools and put them in centres that will be subjected to deep cleaning and decontamination."

Dukwe said teachers had mourned "at their homes".

Vuyolwethu Siwa, SGB chairperson at Gertrude Shope, said, "Township schools must not be used to fight political battles. If the teachers want the schools to be closed, they must first start with the private schools where they send their children. The schools closure would affect the poor children.

"It is easy for them to say schools must be closed because they know their children will attend classes online. None of their children attend school in the townships. Hence we said here SADTU members can go for mourning, but let our children study."

Pulumani said he was not aware of the SADTU picket.

"Schools remain the most viable and safe centres for learners and teachers as they offer adequate opportunity for spacing as required by Covid-19 protocols.

"Eighteen teachers have lost their lives so far to the pandemic. The Department has expressed its heartfelt condolences in that regard," he said.

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