Namibia yesterday woke up to something of revolutionary nature, after thousands of teachers took to the streets to protest against government’s refusal to grant them an 8 percent salary increment they’ve been demanding for months.
This follows the High Court ruling on Wednesday night, which dismissed government’s application that sought to interdict Nantu – the teachers’ union – from striking.
Yesterday morning saw the announcement by the ministry of education that classes have been suspended for Thursday and today. Parents have been urged to bring their children to school on Monday – although there is no clarity on what would have changed by then.
At the same time we also learnt that the current examinations for Grades 10 and 12 have been suspended, pending a return of the situation to normality.
But there was a huge problem in this regard. Yesterday, unconfirmed reports had it that the communication about suspending exams reached some areas very late – to the extent some schools went ahead with the normal examination routine. In other words, some learners wrote exams.
If these reports are anything to go by, the entire examination process has been thrown into disarray. This is because learners who wrote yesterday’s exams can easily leak exam papers to those who did not yet write – throwing into serious doubt the credibility of the entire examination process.
Private schools too, which are not party to the strike, were also told to suspend examinations so as to ensure their learners do not leak exam papers to their friends in public schools. The learners in both private and public schools have been preparing for this examination – and to be told they cannot write must have been distressing.
Yesterday, a group of learners held a demonstration at Ondangwa, in front of the town’s magistrate’s court, to decry the current atmosphere which has left their futures hanging by fingernails.
We will not here go into the merits, if any, or demerits of the teachers’ demands. But our hearts are bleeding for the Namibian child that is caught up in this web of the fight between teachers and their paymasters.
What we know for sure is that the current impasse could easily have been avoided were it not for the egoistic approach that dominated the salary negotiations.
The whole process was dominated by hostility, threats and intimidation. That was as poor as it gets. Negotiations succeed when there is mutual respect – even when disagreeing on principles.
And these negotiations kicked off as far back as April this year. The fact that they went on for so long but still got us where we are today, where the nation’s army of children are grounded and missing out on education and examinations, speaks volumes at how botched the process was from the word go.
We don’t want to be the devil’s advocate but we cannot see how this situation would be resolved when there are no counterproposals on the table.
The scenes observed yesterday across the country strongly suggest we are in for a rough ride. Blatantly put, something needs to be done by either party. We don’t see how teachers would just wake up one morning and decide to go back to class while the status quo of the negotiations remains.
The ongoing deliberations between government and Nantu must therefore realise, as a matter of superior importance, the need for teaching and examinations to resume.
History would judge either side harshly if children are ill-considered in the process and if their future is thrown into the wilderness as a result of failure to reach consensus between the parties involved. Our neighbours South Africa are up in flames with a situation similar to ours: it involves the education sector and was ignited by bread and butter arguments.
Whatever the outcome would be, our prayer is that the fabric or our republic will emerge unscathed.