Open letter to Afrikaans parents and teachers

Henry

The wording of the amended Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (Bela) (version B 2D-2022) reaffirms that Bela is a direct attack on the continued existence of Afrikaans schools and the right of our children to education in Afrikaans.

That is why it is important that parents and schools oppose Bela with opinion in order to prevent provincial heads of education’s powers from being strengthened by legislation to be able to directly target Afrikaans schools.

AfriForum requests you to read the articles below – which are quoted directly in English from the B 2D-2022 version of the Bela bill – so that you can take first-hand knowledge of its dangers.

Purpose of the bill

As is customary in legislation, there is also a brief outline of the purpose of the bill at the beginning of Bela. Among other things, Bela’s purpose is defined as follows (emphasis mine):

To amend –

  • the South African Schools Act, 1996, (…) to enhance the authority of the Head of Department in relation to the admission of a learner to a public school, after consultation with the governing body of the school;
  • (…) and that the Head of Department may directly a public school to adopt more than one language of instruction, (…)

From the above it is already clear that Bela aims to strengthen the head of education’s powers to have the final decision on a school’s admission and language policy. The head teacher’s decision does not have to in consultation with a governing body, but after consultation This means that the head of education is not obliged to heed the governing body’s input – he/she only has to consider it and can then still decide alone.

Admission

The purpose of the law, namely to give the head of education the final decision on a school’s admissions policy without obliging him/her to heed the governing body’s input, is stated as follows in section 4(d)(b) van Bela contains (my emphasis, but the original italics):

4(d)(b) the Head of Departmentafter consultation with the governing body or the schoolhas the final authority, subject to subsection (9), to admit a learner to a public school; (…)

Language

The fact that the governing body can draw up a language policy is positive, but this is neutralized by the fact that the governing body meets the language needs of the district of the school must take into account when drawing up the language policy. There are few or no school districts, especially in the northern and central parts of the country, where the majority of residents prefer a language other than English as their medium of instruction. This provision reads as follows (emphasis mine, but the original italics):

5(c)(5) The governing body or a public schoolwhen determining the language policy of the school or any amendment thereof, must be satisfied that the policy or the amendment thereof takes into account the language needs, in general, of the broader community in the education district in which the public school is situated, (…)

The most draconian article, however, is the provision that the head of education can instruct a school to offer more than one language of instruction. This article reads as follows (my emphasis, but the original italics):

5(7) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (2), the Head of Department may, where it is practicable to do so and subject to subsection (5), directly a public school to adopt more than one language of instruction.

The assignment must also be based on the language needs of the district (so English) (my own emphasis, but the original italics):

5(8) The Head of Departmentin determining whether it is practicable for a public school to have more than one language of instruction, must take into account (…)

(…)

5(8)(d) the language needs, in general, of the wider community in the education district in which the public school is situated.

We wish, namely, that the process that must be followed to change a school’s language policy can act as a counterweight, unfortunately it is hampered by the fact that the head of education must only give consideration to submissions he/she receives, after which he/she is not obliged to act on them to obey. This clause reads as follows (original italics):

5(9) The Head of Department may not act in terms of subsection (7) unless he or she has–

(…)

5(9)(d) conducted a public hearing, on reasonable notice, to enable the community to make representations to him or her in relation to such action; and

5(9)(e) (has) given due consideration to any such representations received.

The fact that a governing body can file an appeal against a head of education’s policy is also clouded by the fact that the provincial MEC has to decide on this appeal. In practice, this means that someone like Panyaza Lesufi (when he was MEC for education in Gauteng) would have to decide on an appeal application. This offers little comfort.

If nothing changes, why is the language clause amended?

With Bela, the education authorities want to create a new legal basis that strengthens the head of education’s decision-making powers to act contrary to the decisions of governing bodies in order to target Afrikaans schools. After this, it will be much more difficult than before to succeed in the courts, and legal actions will entail huge costs for schools.

What can you do?

AfriForum requests you, as parents and teachers, to give AfriForum a mandate to fight against Bela for the preservation of Afrikaans schools. You can do this at the website www.stopbela.co.za.

Friendly greeting,

Kallie Kriel

Chief Executive Officer

AfriForum