By dr. Jaco Deacon
There is still a lot of water to go in the sea before the proposed amendments become law. Until then, school governing bodies still have the responsibility to determine the language and admissions policy of schools in accordance with the provisions of the Schools Act. This will remain the case until the president signs the amendment into law and the term of the current administration is now rapidly coming to an end.
What happens next?
The bill must now be debated and accepted by the National Assembly (NA). If the cooperation between the ANC and the EFF in the portfolio committee is used as the norm, the ANC will simply use its majority in parliament to do the same there. The bill must then be accepted by the National Council of Provinces (NRP). Here, opposition parties should offer greater opposition and procedural aspects should be raised.
The NRP can accept the bill without amendments, accept an amended bill or reject the bill in its entirety. If it is accepted without amendments, it must be submitted to the president for approval. If the NRP rejects the bill or if the NA refuses to adopt the NRP’s amended version of the bill, the matter must be referred to the mediation committee. If mediation fails, the bill will be referred to the NA for acceptance within 30 days and for this acceptance two-thirds of the NA must vote in favor of the amending law.
The bill is then first referred to the president to sign it before it will come into force and the proverbial bullet will go through the church. The president can also determine a date from which the provisions will come into force. If the president has reservations about the constitutionality, he can refer it back to the NV and NRP for reconsideration. If a reconsidered bill accommodates the president’s concerns, the president can sign and approve it.
If it does not accommodate the president’s concerns, the president can refer it to the Constitutional Court for a decision on the constitutionality.
In short, it is safe to say that the Bela bill still has a long way to go before it becomes law. There is also little time for parliament to finalize it before the next general election. Politicians are also well aware of different parties considering legal action if the bill becomes law.
What are the issues?
The two biggest points of contention for public schools are the provisions on language and admission and the proposal that the final decision rests with the head of department of education in each province. Provisions about home education also have this community hot under the collar.
The ruling party has consistently held the position that “certain communities” use language and admission to exclude learners and are therefore discriminatory in nature. Admission policy is essentially discriminatory because criteria for admission must be determined. However, the Constitution is against unfair discrimination.
However, language and admission became the scapegoats for inept officials and politicians. Systemic defects such as too few schools, poor teaching and power management are not touched upon.
However, no politician could point out a school that discriminated unfairly regarding language or admission. If such a school was identified, one could rightly ask why the provincial MEC did not reverse the decision of the governing body during the appeal process. If such a governing body then blatantly discriminated, why did the head of education not use the existing articles 22 (withdrawal of governing bodies’ powers) or 25 (failure of governing bodies to perform activities) to correct the matter?
If “certain communities” use language and admission to exclude learners and the head of department and MEC are aware of it and have done nothing about it in accordance with the Schools Act, they have simply failed in their duty.
According to the latest data (School Realities 2022), there are 22 589 public schools in South Africa. For example, Gauteng has 2,056 public schools today compared to the 2,045 schools of 2012. A mere 12 additional schools after a whole decade.
There was simply nothing to come of the current Prime Minister, Panyaza Lesufi’s “160 new schools in 3 years”. The “blunders” must now be corrected with political haste by blaming Afrikaans schools for not having room. Even if all the Afrikaans schools become English overnight, this will not be the solution.
With a general election around the corner, Bela is now about politics and not education. Schools and children are the pawns in the power game to cover up bad governance and cheap political moves by taking over the rules of the game.
Bela is not going to improve the quality of the country’s education. It’s not going to wipe out pit toilets or restore mud schools. It will not take care of textbooks in Limpopo or teachers in the classroom in the Eastern Cape. This is not going to stop the sale of jobs in KZN. On the contrary, it takes us back to a system of state control and state schools where the state can wag its finger in a totalitarian manner and decide who will go to school where and in which language.
This will hit our good schools hard.
What are ordinary citizens to do?
We, the people of South Africa, will have to stand up for public schools and fight much harder for quality education for every child in our country. We must hold decision makers accountable for meeting their responsibilities. Good parents should raise their hands and stand as candidates in next year’s governing body elections and every parent should vote. Get involved with your local school and give financial support to organizations that will test the validity of Bela in court. Ordinary citizens of the country must go and cast their vote in the general election and hold politicians accountable for the state of public education.
The ball is indeed in our hands.
- Dr. Jaco Deacon is the CEO of Fedsas.