Public school teachers return to work, dealing with COVID-19 loss of colleagues

Teachers have been hit hard by the pandemic, with unions saying that over 1,300 of their members succumbed to the virus since last year.

Chalk and a blackboard duster in the refurbished Samson Senior Primary School in the Eastern Cape. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Public school teachers are returning to work on Monday to prepare for the official reopening on 15 February and many will be faced with the reality of losing their colleagues to COVID-19.

The start of the 2021 academic calendar was pushed back by two weeks to deal with rising coronavirus cases.

Teachers have been hit hard by the pandemic, with unions saying that over 1,300 of their members succumbed to the virus since last year.

A Cape Town school principal who lost staff members to COVID-19 describes having to deal with the losses.

"We begin the year with the loss of two teachers and it's not easy."

Edward Claasen, the principal of Charleston Hill Secondary School in Paarl lost two staff members to COVID-19 - a financial clerk and a teacher.

Cirel Scholtz (55), a business studies teacher with over 25 years experience, succumbed to the virus over the festive season.

Claasen said that Scholtz was an asset to the school and it would be difficult to find someone with his vast amount of knowledge.

"He was one of those teachers that you could depend on... you could ask him anything and the learners could depend on him."

He said that for teachers who had to come to work after losing their colleagues, there is a sense of great uncertainty.

"They feel that anything can happen to them as well."

Saftu's Mangena Maluleke agrees that the pandemic has left teachers grieving, not only for their loved ones but also those they've worked closely with.

"There's that emotional and social connection that they've built with their colleagues that have passed away."

Eyewitness News spoke to other teachers around the country who said that pain of losing their colleagues was still raw and surreal.

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