Wednesday, June 6, 2007

"The Teachers are Toyi Toyi-ing Miss"

The first week that I was at Refeng-Thabo, the school’s union organizer told me that there will most likely be a teacher strike this year. There are several teacher unions in South Africa, but everyone at Refeng-Thabo is a member of SADTU (South Africa’s Democratic Teacher Union), which has been calling for a 12% raise. The government offered 6%, which the unions were obviously not pleased with, and started threatening a strike.

Two weeks ago Friday (May 25th) all union members walked out of Refeng-Thabo at 10am to attend a union rally. On Monday the 28th, most union members did not attend school to go to Bloemfontein for a union march. All that week, the unions members were on a “slow down,” which meant that they came to work, but they did their work very slowly, and would not agree to do any extra work that is not in their contracts.

On Tuesday, the first day of the “slow down,” the teachers were doing the toyi-toyi (which means “protest”) dance in the staff room and these girls (who were supposed to be in my 10th grade history class) saw them and started doing their own dances…

Friday, June 1, the real strike started, and when I showed up to school, there was noone there and the gates and the school were locked. I called the district and they told me to go home, so Andy and I drove the rental car to the beach.

Part of my contract with Fulbright is that I am not allowed to strike and that I will come to school every day during the strike. On Monday, June 4, two other teachers and our school’s librarian showed up. It has been the four of us, the principal, and the office staff all week. The unions are not backing down from their 12% demands and the government is not budging from its second offer of 6.5%, which (surprisingly?) the unions didn’t accept. I polled the teachers before the strike started and most thought that it would last 3 days, some thought it would be only one. Now, most are saying that they would be very surprised if the strike ends before the June vacation, with school only resuming in July.

The first few days I brought my computer and worked all day to get a lot done for 3rd quarter. I got bored the third day and Principal Radebe suggested that I teach the other teachers about the two brand new computers that we received from the district. When I offered to help set up and show them how to use the machines, they jumped out of their seats. (Booth-Fickett's donations bought the power strip, which was the only way that we could use both computers at the same time. The first day, we had to take turns, as there are 2 computers with brand-new printers, but only one plug to connect them to.)

We worked all day on computer basics and everyone wanted to stay late to finish what they were working on. Today Mme Mngomezulu, our new English teacher, has brought an exam that she is working on typing and is very proud of her achievement.

Our cleaner, Mme Nhlapo, is using a computer for the first time and cannot believe it. I printed these photos for them so that they could show their families, who were awestruck.

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