Single heroes who defend narrow approaches to the precious citadel against massed ranks of Orcs, barbarians or Persians are much revered in mythology.

I would like to nominate Gwede Mantashe to stand briefly amongst their legendary ranks.

He stood up yesterday in front of the South African Democratic Teachers Union and said (as quoted in Independent Online):

Sadtu … has neither clarity nor commitment to the education of the black child in the eyes of the public. We continue to use them (children) as pressure points and cannon fodder in the bargaining process. During the strike white children in general and Afrikaans children in particular continued to learn, many of you know this, whose children are in Model C schools. The children of many teachers go to Model C schools. When they (the teachers) go on strike their children continue to learn.”

He was booed and heckled off the podium.

After the booing and heckling had finally died down and he was allowed back onto the podium he said:

When comrades heckle me, they want me to express views about them… if that’s the issue I would suggest that Sadtu in future does not invite me.

So let this heroic stand – flawed like the stands of all the greatest mythological heroes* – not go unnoticed and un-revered. It takes a special kind of discipline and courage to stand up in front of your allies and dress them down in the clear and unambiguous terms Mantashe used.

There is little question that the activities and failures of the South African Democratic Teachers Union is making a singularly negative contribution to South Africa’s progress. There are other failures in government and in society that contribute to the unfolding catastrophe that is our public education system, but the lousy return on the considerable capital we as a country invest in education is in no small part due to the actions and inactions of Sadtu members.

So bravo Gwede Mantashe, the halls of Valhalla await you … hopefully later, rather than sooner.

* Note: Even legendary heroes are not perfect, so we just have to ignore that ridiculous assertion that Afrikaans children were the the least affected as a group by the public sector strike.

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