Bela ‘final break between government, African community’

Henry

The adoption of the Amendment Bill on Basic Education Laws (Bela) is the final break in any relationship of trust that could have existed between the government and the Afrikaans community, Solidarity said on Thursday.

This controversial bill was accepted thanks to an overwhelming ANC majority vote in the National Council of Provinces (NRP). This follows shortly after several amendments were made to the bill, which leaves some power to school governing bodies.

Yet the bill still places decisions regarding schools’ language and admissions policies largely in the hands of the government. This means that an Afrikaans school, for example, can always be declared a multilingual school by a provincial education department head.

Johnell Prinsloo, education researcher from the Solidarity Research Institute, says Solidarity considers the amendments – which some feel positive about – simply as a “smoke screen to push through hostile legislation that aggressively attacks Afrikaans education”.

Solidarity is one of several organizations and groups that opposed Bela from the outset and describes it as a blatant breach of the 1994 agreement according to which protection of minorities’ language and culture had to be guaranteed.

“Bela is nothing but a weapon with which Afrikaans can be expelled as a language of instruction and with which racial quotas are imposed on schools.

“While the government argues that governing bodies will retain certain powers, the same proposed legislation contains provisions that directly follow art. 9(2) of the Constitution refers specifically to race in South Africa.

“In this case, it is our children’s future that is under siege from the ANC and its henchmen. In essence, this is also an attack on the rights of a minority and a total breach of trust between groups – or between a majority and a minority,” says Prinsloo.

Dr. Dirk Hermann, chief executive of Solidarity, describes the adoption of the bill as a “declaration of war against our (the Afrikaans community’s) children”.

“We consider it an act of aggression and will treat it as such.

“We judge the law by what it may have as a result in the future and not by current power relations. The head of the department can still give guidelines to teach in more than one language.”

According to Hermann, Afrikaans schools will henceforth be at the mercy of the government.

“Factors taken into account are equality and fairness in terms of art. 9(2) of the Constitution.

“This is the same article that justifies racial representation in workplaces. Afrikaans schools’ future can be determined by an official’s race calculator. Secondly, the growing number of non-African children must be taken into account. Thirdly, the capacity of the school can be taken into account. Fourth, the composition of the larger community must be taken into account.”

Hermann believes that if these factors are applied to Afrikaans schools, no Afrikaans school will be able to jump over the hurdles.

“All that Afrikaans schools will have left is the grace of the official. Even the outcome of an appeal is in the hands of an official.”

In light of this, Solidarity rejects the Bela legislation in its entirety.

“Solidarity will communicate to the government that the acceptance of Bela will lead to a breach of trust with the Afrikaans community. Solidarity will launch a comprehensive campaign, together with AfriForum and the Solidarity School Support Centre, among others, to stop the Bela law politically and participate in litigation up to the constitutional level,” said Hermann.