Yesterday, the start of our sleep-in outside Parliament was marked with a candlelight vigil. We were joined by members of the public as well as members of partner organisations. Congress of South African Trade Unions’ (COSATU) Western Cape Secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, and Zackie Achmat, chairperson of Equal Education’s (EE) Board, were guest speakers. The vigil was, in part, a celebration of the courage and tenacity of the youth but also an opportunity for reflection. Throughout, our demand that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga adopt regulations providing for National Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure was reiterated. If adopted as regulations, they would provide the first ever legally binding standard for school infrastructure.
Khanya Simandla, a learner from Hector Peterson High School and member of EE’s Leadership Committee, and EE intern Jonathan Lykes welcomed everyone at the vigil. Khanya said: “Tonight we gather together not as individuals but as a collective body, focusing on the urgency of education in South Africa.”
The evening’s first speaker was Nontsikelelo Dlulani, an EE Leadership Committee member representing Westridge High School. Nontsikelelo spoke about her motivation for taking part in the sleep-in: “I am here because hundreds of thousands of learners across the country don’t have desk to sit-in their classrooms. I am here because girls and boys across the country many times don’t have safe toilets to go to in their schools. How do you expect us to pass the matric, when we go to schools that have holes in the roof and students get rained on while inside of their classrooms. That is why I am here, because of my personal experience, but because of the experience of learners and equalizers all across the country.”
She highlighted the fact that while Minister Motshekga claimed that she could not adopt Minimum Norms and Standards without the permission of the provincial MECs for Education, the law was clear: although she had to consult with the MECs, she did not need their permission. “It is her [the Minister’s] responsibility to make sure we have Minimum Norms and Standards for our schools in South Africa,” she said.
Nontsikelelo was followed by Tony Ehrenreich, who affirmed COSATU’s support for EE’s campaign for Minimum Norms and Standards. Ehrenreich said that while there was much in South Africa to be proud of, “when our children have to march 20 years after our liberation to remind us that we have not delivered on the promises that we made to them, then there is something seriously wrong in our country.” He also said that when talking about the future of the youth, no one was above criticism, and agreed with Nontsikelelo that Minister Motshekga had to fulfil her responsibility and adopt Minimum Norms and Standards.
Achmat: Public sector and middle class have to play part in realising decent education for all
EE Chairperson Zackie Achmat began by saluting the young people of Tahrir Square in Egypt and the youth struggling for freedom and human rights across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. He reminded those attending the vigil and participating in the sleep-in to also remember those who had given their lives for freedom in South Africa.
Achmat called on the private sector and middle class to be partners in the struggle for decent education for all. He appealed to the private sector, especially construction companies, to conduct their business with Government ethically. Middle class parents, meanwhile, had to ensure that EE’s book depot, the Bookery, had decent books with which to establish school libraries, write to the Minister and the private sector, and join EE’s marches and protest actions.
The right to basic education was guaranteed by the Constitution and therefore non-negotiable, Achmat said. He added that if Government failed to fulfil its obligations, EE would have to take legal action: “Minister Motshekga and President Zuma, we realise that you have many priorities. But we say to you now: we don’t want to see you in Court. But we will see you there if it’s necessary.”
Concluding, Achmat said that although we only had permission to sleep outside Parliament on July 12th, we would practice our right to peaceful assembly and remain outside Parliament on Wednesday night, July 13th. “We are going to show that we are not scared, that we have a right to assemble…”