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Equal Education responds to Paul Hoffman

On May 15, TimesLIVE published a letter by Paul Hoffman, director of Ifaisa, to the group of EE parents who wrote an open letter to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga (read the parents’ letter here). Today, EE’s response was published.

Here follows Hoffman’s letter, which he also sent to EE (read the abridged version appearing on the TimesLIVE website here).

Dear Parents of Khayelitsha,

Your touching open letter to the Minister of Basic Education published in the Times (page 7) this morning refers.

We hope and pray that the minister does pay attention to your concerns and that your children will receive a decent basic education at the public schools which they attend. We suspect that you have wasted your time writing to Mam’uangie. Even the adoption of the norms and standards for which you plead won’t help much.

Basic education for children and adults alike has been guaranteed to all since 1994. It is not a service that you should have to write full page begging letters to the minister to secure for your children. Their best interests are paramount, as can be seen from the Bill of Rights. The right to basic education is not one of those socio-economic rights that we may receive one day when resources permit. It has been due in full to all and claimable in full by all, child and adult alike, since day one of the new South Africa. This includes adults like you, who received poor education in your apartheid blighted youth.

As your letter demonstrates, the problem you face is one of political will. According to Prof Jonathan Jansen, we South Africans spend more money on education for less return on our hard earned money than any other citizens in the world. This is disgraceful. It is partly due to the stranglehold that the unions have on the education system. Until the challenge this poses is bravely and directly addressed, your children will continue to go to school to get raped, to be sent off to buy liquor for the teachers and generally to be treated with disinterest. The teachers send their own offspring to the former model C schools in the leafy suburbs. They know there is very little education taking place in the townships and the rural areas where some of your children find themselves. There is no political will available to tackle the baleful influence of the unions and the unacceptable conditions they spawn. Unionised teachers make up a substantial element of COSATU and the tripartite alliance, to which the minister belongs, includes COSATU. Catch 22 for the minister.

Mam’uangie does have the power to adopt the minimum norms and standards for which you plead; she simply lacks the will to do so. If all 1300 of you can not instil that will, Ifaisa respectfully suggests that you look at the litigation options available to you. On our website ( you will find a draft notice of motion in the education section, it is aimed at obtaining redress for those who suffer as you and your children do in our education system. It has been there for some time, waiting for you to realise that asking politely does not get you the sort of help that is available to those who know and claim their rights. This includes the courts enforcing the right to basic education, a right the minister has sworn to respect, protect, promote and fulfil as part of her oath of office to uphold the Constitution. If she was doing what she swore she would do when she took office, you would not have to write any open letters to her. Deep down, you all know that already.


Paul Hoffman SC


Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa

+27 (0)82 888 0821

This is EE Coordinator Doron Isaacs’ response (read the abridged version appearing on the TimesLIVE website here):

Paul Hoffman’s open letter to the “Parents of Khayelitsha” distinguishes itself, even by the standards of its author, for its patronizing and superior tone.

Unless these mothers act more “bravely”, Hoffman reprimands them, their “children will continue to go to school to get raped”. The trauma of rape is usually addressed with greater respect and sensitivity when addressing the mothers of its victims. Moreover, these are the bravest mothers. They support their children not only in their schooling, but in their campaigns for better schools. Having educated themselves about the problems in their children’s schools, the mothers went door to door to win wide support for their letter to Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, as indicated by the 1,300 signatures. These same mothers organize and attend workshops on how to make schools accountable to communities.

More serious are the flaws in Hoffman’s arguments and legal advice. The protection, by unions, of a minority of lazy or predatory teachers is indeed a problem, but this blinds Hoffman to every other affliction of our education system. To cite just one example, the 395 Eastern Cape mud-schools, which due to the Legal Resource Centre’s work, and Equal Education’s campaigning, are now beginning to be replaced, are hardly the fault of unions, nor can they be productive working environments for the teachers.

Hoffman refers us to a Notice of Motion on his organisation’s website. The document does not represent a competent approach to litigating education. This one-size-fits-all approach fundamentally misunderstands the well-established relationship between community empowerment and mobilisation, public advocacy and a litigation strategy that advances in measured but concrete steps. This combination of forces is needed even after a court victory to ensure successful implementation. Hoffman calls this “begging”. In fact it is the hard work of building a movement for quality and equal education. This has not only been recognised in South Africa, but in the 60 year history of education litigation in the United States. To simply dump a complex budgetary and policy problem in the courts, without any accompanying social campaign, is a recipe for a disaster, with a real chance of closing doors that have only been opened with great difficulty.



Coordinator of Equal Education

Carla GoldsteinEqual Education responds to Paul Hoffman