Today at a press conference Equal Education (EE) announced that it had filed papers in the Bhisho High Court against Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga; Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan; and the nine provincial MECs for Education.
As EE Coordinator Doron Isaacs explained: “The papers seek an order compelling Minister Motshekga to prescribe minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure. This is the most far-reaching court case about the right to basic education to have been launched in democratic South Africa.”
Yoliswa Dwane, Head of Policy at EE, compiled the 582 page founding affidavit. She outlined the efforts EE has gone to secure infrastructure standards: “EE has been campaigning for minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure for two years. Thousands of people across the country have joined our campaign. Equalisers, staff in schools, parents at home and communities on the street have petitioned, picketed, fasted, slept outside Parliament and protested repeatedly. However, Minister Motshekga has failed to exercise the powers she has – as set out in section 5A of the South African Schools Act – to prescribe minimum norms and standards. Because of Minister Motshekga’s refusal to prescribe norms and standards South Africa’s learners have continued to be taught under unacceptable conditions. EE believes that it has exhausted alternatives in its campaign and it is with great regret that it has had to resort to legal action.”
School infrastructure is a vital component of a basic education. At present schools are not required by law to have functioning libraries, effective sanitation facilities, well stocked laboratories or even safe classrooms. And as the Minister has herself recognised, school infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, is in an appalling state. Almost 3,600 schools do not have electricity. 92% of schools do not have a functioning library and in the Eastern Cape there are still 395 mud schools. The right to a basic education cannot be seen as separate from the conditions under which learners are taught. Without a uniform standard across the country South Africa’s education system, and the learners it produces, will continue to be defined by historical inequality.
Doron Isaacs explained that proper standards for schools will also help to address the problem of underspending: "The EC has spent only 28% of its R1.45bn school infrastructure budget because the Minister refuses to set standards which the province must meet". Isaacs also explained that there are various challenges in SA education including quality of teaching and textbook availability, and that campaigning for infrastructure is a step in a long process of transforming education. "As we will put before the court, the connection between infrastructure and outcomes is clear. Research from developing countries around the world shows this and the Minister herself has explicitly acknowledged it.
The papers that EE filed are composed of two parts. Part A refers to two schools in the Eastern Cape: Mwezeni S.P.S and Mkanzini J.S.S. These schools do not have adequate infrastructure and have to hold classes in mud classrooms or corrugated iron shacks. EE has applied for these schools to be provided emergency relief to remedy the crisis they are currently attempting to function under. Part B of the case seeks to compel Minister Motshekga to prescribe minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure. The papers do not suggest what minimum norms and standards Minister Motshekga should prescribe – this is her prerogative. All EE asks is that she sets a standard so that she can begin to hold provinces accountable, and so that communities will know what standards to expect such that they too can assist accountability.
Attorney for Equal Education Cameron McConnachie from the Legal Resources Centre emphasised that this case seeks to assist government to do its work. He said: “The irony of this case is that we are on the same side. Norms and Standards will help government, particularly Minister Motshekga, in that it will provide a mechanism by which she can ensure that provinces spend money effectively.”
Also speaking at the press conference were:
– Lelethu Kiti, a grade 12 Equal Education member from Harold Cressy School in Western Cape, who spoke about the harm done to her by the absence of a library and laboratory in her school.
– Mazwi Masimula, parent from Cebelihle Primary in KwaZulu-Natal, who described the fact that there is no water available in school, it is delivered once a week by truck, enough only for a day or two, and is sourced unprocessed from the local dam.
– Tembalakhe Viniqshe, principal of Mwezeni Primary school in the Eastern Cape, who spoke about the destruction of his school by weather in February 2010, and the absolute non-response of government to various efforts to bring this to their attention.
– Zanemvulam Jama, principal of Mkanzini Primary school in Libode, Eastern Cape, who described a shack in which the majority of learners are crowded for classes. In winter it is too cold for classes, in summer too hot, and when it rains school in cancelled.
Yoliswa Dwane called for the support of all people in South Africa in this case: “Minister Motshekga has failed to fulfil her obligations to the country’s learners and teachers. EE calls on all South Africans to support our court case and join our campaign for minimum norms and standards.”
For more information please contact
Yoliswa Dwane 072 342 7747 or 021 387 0022/3
Doron Isaacs 082 850 2111
For high resolution pictures of the schools included in the case please contact Kate Wilkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org