THERE are mounting fears that a strike by the militant South African Teachers Union (Sadtu) next week could throw this year’s matric exams into complete disarray in the Eastern Cape.

The shock announcement by the teachers’ union yesterday sparked outrage among educators, education specialists and opposition political parties in the province who say the strike has the potential to compromise Grade 12 pupils and could force thousands to rewrite papers in January next year.

Sadtu says the action is primarily aimed at ousting Eastern Cape Provincial Education Department head Modidma Mannya while also addressing a number of disputes and demands.

Sadtu told Weekend Post that its members would launch its campaign with a mass march on Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kiviet’s office at the Bisho Legislature next Friday, at which time the country’s pupils will be sitting for their physical sciences exam.

The strike action may prove devastating for pupils across the province and for the duration of the exams as Sadtu has vowed to continue with their campaign until their demands have been met.

Furious East London education specialist Ken Alston labelled the timing of the action as a deliberate attempt to “blackmail” the Education Department.

“This is absolutely shocking, appalling and a very selfish act by Sadtu. This action can have a phenomenal affect on pupils, and particularly black pupils in disadvantaged areas. This industrial action, depending on its extent, certainly has the potential to affect every black pupil in the province,” he said.

Alston said the union’s actions were exceptionally unfair to a generation of pupils and that a potential consequence would be that thousands of these pupils would have to rewrite their exams in January.

Sadtu provincial secretary Mncekeleli Ndongeni acknowledged that the action would take place during the exams, which are set to be completed by December 1, but said that “Sadtu will try to avoid any disruption to the exams as much as possible”.

Ndongeni would not be drawn into whether pupils would be physically disrupted as they wrote their exams at hundreds of schools around the Eastern Cape or what the actual effects on Grade 12 pupils would be.

“There is no if. We are going to be embarking on this action. It will be taking place next Friday and we will be marching on the Premier’s office. We will continue with our industrial action until our demands have been met, until we have got rid of the chaos that is in the Department of Education in this province,” Ndongeni said.

Citing a host of Education Department challenges, which include funding, fraud and corruption, on-going disputes around high-ranking departmental officials, expensive legal battles at taxpayers’ expense, overspending by the department and general “chaos” which is allegedly endemic in the department, Sadtu said the industrial action has come after “the department (again) boycotted the conciliation set for November 1.”

Education MEC Mandla Makupula yesterday confirmed he had received correspondence regarding the strike and said that the “union has a right to share its views”.

“As for Mannya the provincial government is his employer and only the government can judge on his performance,” he said.

Makupula said it was a concern to “government and ordinary people that the strike will take place during the exams. As a responsible organisation they (Sadtu) had to take into account the exams”.

However Mannya told Weekend Post that he was “not aware of any strike” and was not able to comment.

DA education spokesman Edmund van Vuuren yesterday slammed the strike action, labelling Sadtu as selfish.

“This is a sensitive time for learners and Sadtu clearly does not have the interests of the learners at heart. This is disgraceful and we certainly condemn industrial action at this time,” said Van Vuuren.

Congress of the People (COPE) Eastern Cape regional spokesman Mwzandile Hoti said the party “cannot support the strike especially at such a crucial time” when matrics are writing their final exams. “A strike at this time would be counter-productive. The children who are the future of our country will suffer. This can also have a negative effect on teachers who invigilate during these exams,” said Hoti.

A veteran Port Elizabeth invigilator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she feared that the strike could result in exam papers not being delivered to matric pupils.

“We saw this during the trial exams last year when Sadtu members were on strike. All the schools suddenly had to organise their own exams when striking members locked the Education Department building,” she said. “This is a disaster, especially since the strike starts on the day of the physical science exam, which is so important.”

However a Mdantsane high school principal who spoke to Weekend Post on condition of anonymity insisted matric exams will not be affected by the strike. The principal said teachers who were scheduled to invigilate exams would stay at their posts and only those off the roster would march.

“It definitely won’t affect matric exams,” he said.

Referring to Mannya as a “trigger happy sadist”, he said the SG was “always lynching people” and spending tax payers’ money in “legal wrangles”.