SADTU Media Statement on its 31st Anniversary

5 October 2021

The South African Democratic Teachers' Union (SADTU) marks its 31st anniversary on 6 October. Launched in the twilight years of the apartheid regime on this day in 1990 in Johannesburg, SADTU became the first non-racial, non-sexist and unitary union for teachers.

It committed and dedicated to the transformation of education and development of an education system which is fully accessible, equal, qualitative and free of apartheid legacy.

With a membership of 30 000 at the launch, SADTU has grown to 270 000 members making it the largest union in the education and public service sector in South Africa. It not only represents teachers but all lecturers in post-schooling institutions, Grade R teachers and education support personnel as well.

Its early years were marked by struggles for recognition. This was not an easy feat as it meant negotiating with close to 18 education departments that were divided by race and those in the homelands. The union had to embark on strikes and in the end, secured the right of teachers to form and join a union of their choice.

The gains achieved included, among others, securing bargaining rights for educators, equal pay for same work, four-month maternity leave for female teachers, recognition of experience of elderly teachers and embarked on upgrading their qualifications through the ERLC. We fought to bring to an end the apartheid schools inspector system which was meant to victimise, dehumanise and deprofessionalise the profession and for it to be replaced by a more developmental system.

As we note these gains we are aware of the many challenges we still have to overcome. One of these is the plight of Grade R practitioners who are treated like the poor cousins in the profession. There is no uniformity in their conditions of service as these are decided at provincial level. Many are not paid full salaries but stipends by school governing bodies. We will do all to ensure justice for the Grade R practitioners by ensuring that equal pay for equal work and equal qualification becomes a reality.

The road traversed over the years has been marked by balancing between trade unionism and professionalism hence the Union’s famous slogan: “We can fight and teach at the same time.” We have indeed fought for the rights of educators as workers and also fought for quality public education for all. We are at the forefront of advocating against the privatisation of education as we believe education is a public good.

We celebrate our 31st anniversary having witnessed the demise of more than 1 640 educators and education support personnel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we mourn their deaths, we salute them for their dedication to the profession. Further, we commend our members for heeding the call to have themselves vaccinated and urge those who have not vaccinated, to do so. They are not only saving their lives but also the lives of learners and their families as well. In honouring those we have lost we are dedicated to fight for vaccine equality in our country and the world because no one is safe until we are all vaccinated.

As we celebrate, we are fully aware of the fact that our schools are not safe. The looting and vandalising of schools has become a societal norm while violence among learners and teachers continues unabated. Teachers have lost their lives at the hands of the learners they teach and learners have suffered physical and emotional abuse caused by teachers. As a response to all these ills, SADTU has launched the “I am A School Fan” campaign wherein we urge all stakeholders to commit to ensure that our schools are safe.

We are also fully aware of the looming austerity measures. Funding for education is expected to decrease every year for the next three years. There is less money to pay educators and education support personnel in the budget for the next three years. We will not allow these austerity measures to reverse our hard-fought gains. We won’t allow austerity measures to deny learners their right to quality public education.

SADTU will therefore take part in COSATU’s National Strike across the country on 7 October where we will say no to retrenchments in our sector, no to rising unemployment, no to gender-based violence and yes to safety in our schools.

We will also call for a wealth tax on businesses who have embarked on an investment strike that has led to job losses. Businesses are the primary beneficiaries from our education system, therefore they have a duty to plough back.

Forward ever; Backward never!

ISSUED BY: SADTU Secretariat


General Secretary, Mugwena Maluleke: 082 783 2968

Deputy General Secretary, Nkosana Dolopi: 082 709 65651

Media Officer, Nomusa Cembi: 082 719 5157