It was probably bound to happen. The consequences of the latest round of the Israel-Gaza conflict (or whatever name one chooses to assign it) were going to land on someone.
It seems that the person in question is one Sudesh Mooloo, a teacher of some 25 years experience of Afrikaans at Laudium Secondary School in Gauteng. Or, if some media reports are to be believed, a former teacher at the institution. His transgression, it seems, was that he posted a WhatsApp status which said: ‘I am not anti-Palestine but I am anti-Hamas. I stand with Israel.’
Fraught as this chapter of geopolitics is, and as passionately as a subset of South Africans feel about it, these are hardly intemperate words. They confirm a matching set of political positions, nothing more; indeed, in both of them, being ‘anti-Hamas’ and standing ‘with Israel’, Mooloo is probably in the company of millions of other South Africans of all backgrounds. He is probably in good company with many in his immediate peer group.
But for having posted the words – if a report carried in The Citizen is correct – Mooloo has been fired from his job and subjected to harassment. ‘The community’ is apparently distressed that ‘he could influence the youth with incorrect values.’
These facts seem to be undisputed.
No doubt there will be cackling of delight from among those opposed to Israel. But the treatment of Mooloo is a scandal, and must be recognised and condemned as one.
Mooloo is a (presumably) a South African, and by all accounts, he made this statement as a private person, not as a teacher. In other words, he did no more that exercise his good right of citizenship to make a statement about his beliefs. This is absolutely a foundational, protected right in the country’s politics.
To be hounded out of a job at a state institution for doing this is conduct without excuse of justification.
Had he in fact propagated this view as a teacher, it would indeed have been inappropriate – though not really outside the bounds of behaviour that others have established. The South African Democratic Teaches’ Union, for example, has been vocal in anti-Israel activism. It is a regular participant in Israeli Apartheid Week. There have even been instances in which teachers have made public comments on the recent conflict, with no evident consequences. A France24 report on a Cape Town protest contained the following: ‘People are dying, people are being displaced, people are being hurt and people are being treated unfairly, and we had the same thing here in South Africa,’ said school teacher Tasneem Saunders.
One suspects that Ms Saunders faced no adverse consequences for her stance. Nor should she.
Indeed, teaching in South Africa has a long tradition of active political partisanship, irrespective of what regulations or professional responsibilities may require. SADTU is openly aligned with the ANC – and Communist Party Supremo Blade Nzimande once called upon the trade union’s members to use their positions to push socialist ideas.
The consequences of this have been lamentable in many respects, but that does not alter the fact that even if Mooloo had been speaking as a teacher he would still be within a range of behaviour that has been firmly established, and effectively endorsed by those in power.
As for ‘the community’… it’s a nebulous beast encompassing everyone in general and no one in particular. It’s hard to debate or engage with it. And this is why we need to measure people’s conduct against rules, not vague sentiments. For what it’s worth, there is probably a large part of ‘the community’ that would stand with Mooloo.
Is he teaching his student’s ‘incorrect values’? Well, with 25 years of experience this should be easy to check. Has he done so? What values? But rather like the vagary that is ‘the community’, one wonders what an ‘incorrect value’ is. If ‘standing with Israel’ is so described, what about ‘standing with Hamas’? I wonder whether ‘the community’ would be okay with its misogyny, homophobia and anti-Semitism? Values, right?
Frankly, geopolitical stances don’t cut it as values that determine one’s suitability to be a teacher.
And on that note, it is gratifying to see that the Gauteng Department of Education has noted these events and have indicated its displeasure. It says that it has been informed that Mooloo is on sick leave. One hopes that this will be expeditiously, fairly and thoroughly investigated.
If Mooloo has been targeted because of his politics, he is entitled to the support and protection not only of the state, but of all who value a free society.