The teacher strike which started today at the 1700 public schools is not just about money, and teachers feeling entitled to exercise their democratic rights to strike. When carefully scrutinized, it is an act to remind politicians that in leadership there is no room for arrogance and last minute attempts to solve problems. The proposed 8% increment will to a certain extent hurt the finances of the country, but it will inconvenience learners and teachers more if not granted. Since the negotiations began, Government has been accused of being bullish by prescribing by how much teachers’ salaries should be increased, a practice which is clearly undemocratic and contrary to the principles of negotiations. The give and take spirit of negotiations is non-existent to Government, a situation which led to it being embarrassed in Court on Wednesday for failing to follow the very same laws it vowed to protect and uphold. Teachers, nurses and police officers are the backbone of Namibia’s social system, yet they continue to linger at the very bottom of the country’s income pyramid. The situation subsequently forces them into poverty and in the process further entrenching inequality.
As teachers were preparing to down tools this week, President Hage Geingob was in one of the cozy boardrooms at State House flanked by senior members of his administration attempting to find a solution with Nantu to avert the strike at the 11th hour. Perhaps the President thought he could succeed and convince Nantu to shelve the strike the way he succeeded with Affirmative Repositioning last year. Acting on key developments on the last minute is detrimental and will cost this administration its credibility-if it is not lost yet.
A responsible Government deals with issues the moment they arise, instead of waiting to see how extreme it will get and then act upon that basis. It is impossible to address the issue of teaching standards in this country if teachers are underpaid. It is even more damning to expose learners to a situation where their education is placed in jeopardy because of governance hiccups. The vice president Nickey Iyambo was quoted saying some of those instigating teachers to strike are failed politicians. When will our politicians understand that not every decision or action must be political? When do we start talking about the dismal failure of the Swapo government to improve the quality of education in Namibia?
While many, even parents of affected learners, have expressed solidarity with teachers, there has also been those who say “teachers do not care about the Namibian”. In all honesty, the way government went about dealing with this process showed the nation that it cares little about the Namibian child because the matter never got the serious attention it deserves until the very last minute. The teachers’ strike is a militant step. Although it may not yield immediate results, Government must learn a lesson from this whole saga. Social and economic issues should not be dealt with in a political manner, it deserves careful and well-calculated decisions. One of our columnists, Dr. Marius Kudumo earlier this month wrote that the dispute between Nantu and government was a mismanaged process.
He said: “The negotiation seems to have been based on at the initial stages on wrong assumptions. It also lacked analysis and prediction of what could happen.” Dr. Kudumo rightfully pointed out the sentiments many of us harbored-that the Government negotiating team went to the negotiation table unwilling to negotiate. Dr. Kudumo also pointed out that reasons given by the negotiating team of government pf drought and prevailing economic conditions were valid, adding that: “ But the government negotiating team in this case did not have the moral and ethical authority to convince anyone.”
Fundamentally and central to Dr. Kudumo’s stance, Namibia does not behave in practice like a Nation that faces serious economic and social challenges and practice should follow public pronouncements to earn legitimacy.
“We cannot morally convince others to tighten their belts while we are buying new belts, because the old ones cannot fit.” When government signed the 5% increment deal with Napwu, many warned that such a move would prove costly because you cannot conclude negotiations with one party while negotiations are ongoing with the other. It is our hope that government will come to its senses and do the right thing for the sake of our teachers and learners. After all they have a huge role to play when it comes to ensuring that our development ambitions are met.