19 June 2013
The struggle between Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, and activist organisation Equal Education, is getting nasty. The Department has accused EE of using whites to mislead black people and EE has accused the Department of racism. EE held Youth Day marches on Monday 17 June in Cape Town and Pretoria. The marches were part of EE’s campaign to get Minister Motshekga to publish a policy on minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure.
Motshekga had undertaken to publish the document by 15 May. However she missed the deadline and has asked for a six month extension, which angered EE.
More than a thousand people, mainly learners, took to the streets of Cape Town. The march began at Keizergracht Street and proceeded to Parliament. An similarly sized march was also held in Pretoria where learners marched to City Hall.
EE’s Norms and Standards campaign began in 2011 as a response to the organisation’s frustration with the state of schools in Khayelitsha, many of them lacking basic infrastructure such as libraries or decent toilets. The organisation believes that Motshekga is compelled to publish norms and standards in line with the South African Schools Act.
“Equal Education’s primary research was conducted in Khayelitsha in 2008. There is a lack of basic infrastructure in Khayelitsha, but there are worse conditions in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo,” said Aphiwe Tomose, a spokesperson for Equal Education and also a scholar at Sakumlandela Combined School in Site B, Khayelitsha.
According to the South African government’s 2011 National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) report, out of 24.793 public ordinary schools:
3 544 schools have no electricity
401 schools lack a water supply and 2,611 have an unreliable one
913 do not have ablution facilities and 11,450 are using pit latrine toilets
Only 8% have stocked school libraries
Only 5% have stocked laboratory facilities
Only 10% of schools have stocked computer centres
Minister Motshekga agreed with EE in February 2011 that she would publish the norms and standards policy by 1 April 2011. On 21 March 2011, EE held a Human Rights Day March in Cape Town calling on the Minister to meet her deadline to publish norms and standards. Nevertheless, the minister missed the deadline.
On 2 March 2012, the Legal Resources Centre acting on behalf of Equal Education and two applicants filed a lawsuit at the Bhisho High Court in the Eastern Cape against the Minister, all nine Education MEC’s and the Minister of Finance. The key demand is for the publication of national quality minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure.
However, three days before the court case on 19 November 2012, Motshekga’s lawyers contacted EE with an offer to settle out of court. The Minister said that she would then publish a draft of the regulations for public comment on or before 15 January 2013 and that she would promulgate regulations on school infrastructure by 15 May 2013.
On 8 January the Minister published a draft policy. Several organisations, including EE, were unsatisfied with these. On 9 May she sent a letter to Equal Education requesting an extension on the adoption of minimum norms and standards. The minister stated in the letter that she had recognised problems with her draft and requested an extension. EE offered one month, but the minister said this was too short and requested six months.
“Minister Motshekga had the option of adopting previous minister Naledi Pandor’s draft for norms and standards, which was thorough and concise. She had four years to publish uniform norms and standards, but has failed to do so,” said Phelokazi Mqathana, a grade 11 scholar at Joe Slovo Engineering High School in Khayelitsha. “This march we are having is a reminder to the minister that she owes us an adequate norms and standards draft,” she said.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Basic Education released a statement headed “Equal Education is disingenuous: Minister Motshekga”. The statement was in response to the marches held on Monday by EE and the demands for norms and standards. It said:
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga would like to reiterate and clarify once more, the issue of the finalization of Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. While EE takes to the streets with their ingenuous march involving school children, the Department continues to engage with them through letters the Minister has written to them, explaining the process that must, according to law, take place before the finalization of the Minimum Norms and Standards.
The statement explained that on 9 May, the minister had written to EE explaining that compulsory consultations with NEDLAC still had to be concluded before the policy could be published. The Department said that the minister is still awaiting a report from NEDLAC, after which the minister must consider its recommendations.
Controversially, the statement also said:
It is interesting to note the sudden interest that Equal Education is taking in the education of the African child. Suddenly the NGO knows all about the challenges that African children face against the privileges they have enjoyed.
… to suddenly see a group of white adults organizing black African children with half-truths can only be opportunistic, patronizing and simply dishonest to say the least.
Yoliswa Dwane, chairperson of Equal Education, released a press statement calling on Motshekga to “distance herself from the racist statement issued in her name.”
“As it happens the majority of EE’s leadership went to the very township and rural schools we are fighting to fix,” said Dwane. “At the same time EE consists of people of every background and we are very proud of this. Any person who commits themself to advancing the daily struggles of poor and working class youth is welcome in EE. That these values exist is something that those responsible for education should celebrate, not attack,” she continued.
“Four years is a very long time to wait for the adoption of minimum norms and standards,” said Nomkhitha Beja, a Grade 11 scholar at Manyano High in Ilitha Park in Khayelitsha. “Motshekga should not have been granted the extension as she had four whole years to publish adequate norms and standards.”
“We as EE and scholars are furious, as our learning conditions are not optimal. Yet the Minister is doing nothing about it,” said Andisiwe Mzingelwa, a grade 11 scholar at Oaklands High School in Lansdowne. “We have granted her a lot of time to publish norms and standards, yet every time, she delays the adoption processes,” she continued.