Media sink their teeth into leaders

I KNOW I'm easy to please but I hope I'm not the only one elated that our media started the year well, proving themselves equal to their watchdog role of holding people in power accountable.

I KNOW I'm easy to please but I hope I'm not the only one elated that our media started the year well, proving themselves equal to their watchdog role of holding people in power accountable.

The exposure of the double-speak by President Jacob Zuma and his office over Shabir Shaik's application for a pardon and the coverage of the dismal matric results stand out.

Having been caught out being less than candid on whether he is considering the foul-mouthed fraudster's request for a pardon, Zuma and his office have been blowing hot and cold, fuelling fears that he is about to cock a snook at the public, seriously impairing our faith in the justicesystem.

Now, Zuma's spin doctor, Vincent Magwenya, says it's all a matter of semantics. It is actually sophistry from the highest office. He implores us to stop stressing over what he says is an inconsequential issue.

Well, the huge public outcry alone should tell Magwenya it matters to the nation whom Zuma pardons.

The media should remain steadfast and refuse to be cowed into submission until Zuma and his office provide a straight answer to whether Shaik is getting a pardon or not.

No doubt stung by the public outrage and deservedly harsh criticism in the media following the 40 percent matric failure rate, Angie Motshekga, the basic education minister, and the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) appear to have seen the error of their ways.

Motshekga this week lamented the poor results, blasting bad teachers in the process. She also blamed weak management and a lack of leadership and commitment.

One can only hope her indignation will be followed by a concerted effort to fix the damage done to our education system under ANC rule.

But the country has not forgotten how she, when she was Gauteng minister of education, chose to attend Jacob Zuma's court proceedings in Bloemfontein instead of a meeting of authorities called to discuss education strategies.

She would also do well to retract her ill-advised statement last year that "matric is not that important", in response to the publication of Julius Malema's uninspiring school report.

Particularly pleasing for me has been the Damascene metamorphosis of Sadtu, which is by far the worst culprit in the destruction of black education since the end of apartheid - worse than inadequate resources and unqualified teachers. The union says it wants to make a success of this year's shorter school year.

With its vociferous protection of its members' lackadaisical attitude to work and its failure to appreciate the difference between being just another salaried worker and a dedicated teacher, the trade union has gone beyond the call of duty in making sure Hendrik Verwoerd's dream of denying black people education has become a reality.

Instructively, in her book on Oliver Tambo, Luli Callinicos writes that Verwoerd considered "suitable" education for black children as consisting of only three hours of school a day.

Sadtu, with its penchant for wildcat strikes and violent rejection of mechanisms to ensure accountability for teachers, has achieved just that.

A report by the Development Bank of Southern Africa shows that township children get on average only three-and-a-half hours of teaching a day compared with six hours for those in the suburbs. The report also shows that of the 1,5 million kids who entered Grade 1 in 1988, only 552000 wrote matric last year, meaning 64 percent had since dropped out.

As newspaper columnist Andile Mngxitama declared in Sowetan this week: "Right now there is educational genocide for the black child."

The media would do well to maintain the spotlight on the subject. The angst over the deterioration of education is not the "bourgeois pastime" of a few racist whites. For most people, the vast majority of whom are black, education is their only hope of escaping poverty and making a useful contribution to society.