Education International
Education International

Teachers stand against xenophobia and violence in South Africa

published 13 May 2015 updated 1 June 2015

Education International’s affiliates in South Africa, the South African Democratic Teachers' Union and the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, have strongly condemned recent xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals.

In the last few weeks, at least five people have been killed and hundreds forced to flee their homes in one of South Africa’s worst outbreaks of xenophobic violence in years. Despite an increased police presence, the authorities struggle to stop the attacks reminiscent of similar violence in South Africa in 2008 in which about 60 people died.

In an attempt to challenge the scaremongering and racist views held by some people and sections of the media, both teacher unions have emphasised the pivotal role played by immigrants in South Africa’s economy. They have highlighted that immigrants cannot be held responsible for the economic difficulties faced by the majority of the population in the country. This is a direct response to the xenophobic view that immigrants are taking jobs and opportunities away from South Africans.

Damage to South Africa

These recent attacks on immigrants “have caused untold damage to South Africa – a country that values human rights, peace and solidarity”, said Mugwena Maluleke, the General Secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (SADTU) in condemnation of the attacks.

Basil Manuel, President of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (NAPTOSA), called on all teachers “to stand up against these dastardly acts and to use the power of education to fulfil their role as nation-builders and inculcate a culture of tolerance, acceptance and respect for all people irrespective of nationality, race, colour, culture or religious faith”.

Both organisations also stressed the crucial role of education in contributing to the elimination of poverty, unemployment, and inequality.

EI: Teachers to the forefront of tolerance education

“Teacher unions around the world are on the front lines of the fight against racism and xenophobia,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen.

Teachers, and especially migrant teachers, make an important contribution to “building mutual understanding and respect, breaking down prejudices and fears, in order to strengthen human values and democracy”, he added.

That is why EI and its affiliates, together with other global unions, are committed to fighting for equal rights for all, regardless of ethnicity, origin, or immigration status, he said.

As evidence of this, EI launched a global campaign this year to promote the ratification and implementation of ILO Conventions No. 97 and 143, which are fundamental to secure decent work for all migrant workers, van Leeuwen said.

Numerous studies show that South Africa has recruited thousands of migrant teachers from Zimbabwe, Zambia, other African countries, and beyond. These professionals make a significant contribution to quality teaching and learning in South African schools and universities, particularly in the fields of mathematics, science, technology, and engineering.

Learn more about EI work on migration: www.migrantteacherrights.org

Read SADTU’s statement here

Read NAPTOSA’s statement here