Address by President Nelson Mandela at a forum on education, Athlone

14 April 1996

An opportunity to meet educators

The teaching profession is of critical importance for the future of our country. I therefore deeply appreciate the fact that so many of you have made the time to be here today.

I do know that teachers' organisations in the Western Cape have a proud record of struggle for freedom and justice. And today you are playing a key role as torchbearers of education for transformation in the Western Cape community.

The growing unity in action of different teacher's organisations, coming from different traditions and backgrounds, is most welcome. It is a sign that teachers are indeed a part of nation-building, non-racialism and transformation.

Transforming education

The ANC has worked tirelessly over the years for the transformation of education. We place such high value on education because it is through education that the vast potential of our youth can be realised. The well-being of every person and the prosperity of our nation depend on investment in people, central to which is education.

The neglect of the educational needs of the majority of South Africans under apartheid left us with the challenge of meeting immense needs with limited resources. That is why, when government committed itself in the Education White Paper to opening the doors of learning to all, we also adopted a policy of equalising spending by redistributing resources to benefit disadvantaged sectors.

Seeking solutions through consultation and negotiation

Government has approached this redistribution of resources in consultation with provinces; and agreed with them on a phased process over five years to avoid disruption. The details will be familiar to you and will put paid to any claims that the Western Province has been singled out for victimisation.

Since the larger part of educational budgets is devoted to staff expenditure, the shifting of funds also means the shifting of staff from the better-resourced provinces to others. This matter too has been approached through consultation and negotiation.

During this whole process government used as its mandate the principle which I outlined at the Opening of Parliament earlier this year, namely that we should do our best to ensure that no teachers are retrenched while children in the country as a whole need them.

A Voice of the past

It is therefore unfortunate that which the approach of local government elections in parts of the Western Cape, some politicians have sought to use these positions to muddy the waters, hoping to attract a few votes.

The attempt by members of the NP to suggest that the government is imposing retrenchment on any province, or that it is victimising any particular section of the teaching community, is a vivid example of political opportunism and dishonesty.

Because of the manner in which the matter has been handled, particularly in the Western Cape, and because of other new developments, Minister Bengu will have a follow-up meeting within weeks with the MEC's for Education.

In the same vein, if there are new developments which require further negotiations between government and teachers, then it is through collective bargaining structures that these should be addressed.

Local Government elections

I have dwelt on these issues because I know that they are of concern to you in the Western Cape, as they are to teachers throughout our land. I am confident of the willingness of teachers to seek solutions in partnership with government, for the benefit of our children and our future.

It is also important that we do not let the politics of opportunism cloud the real issues relating to the coming local government elections.

In April 1994 South Africans put division and conflict behind us and set out as a nation on the path to unity, peace and a better life for all.

In November last year most of the country had local elections to set up the first democratic local authorities our country has ever had. Once again the majority reaffirmed their trust in the ANC, because, in Government, it had made a start on improving the well-being of millions of ordinary South Africans.

Now it's our turn

The voters of Cape Town (including myself) were excluded from the November elections. Now it is our turn. Like our compatriots elsewhere, we must put in place strong councils, with representatives who are accountable to the people.

As people of influence in the community, teachers have a responsibility to ensure that as many people as possible participate in these elections.

Why people should vote ANC

The ANC is putting up candidates who have always worked for a better life for people in their communities. They can be relied on to work for a better life where we live.

The ANC unites people in order to promote harmony and bring change. We work together with young and old; workers and employers; students and teachers; professionals and people from every walk of life. With your support ANC councillors will get the plans moving so that we can turn the places where we live into places to be proud of, true to the ideals of the new South Africa.

'n Beter lewe vir almal: Kom ons laat dit gebeur ook hier in Kaapstad!

Source: South African Government Information Website