Tomorrow, EE is holding a roundtable discussion on our school infrastructure court case. On Wednesday 14 March and Thursday 15 March, the Bhisho High Court will hear our case to fix the school infrastructure law. EE will be picketing outside the court.
We want government to commit to meeting the school infrastructure targets that it has set for itself. We want the State to deliver on the basic school infrastructure needed to fulfill the rights to dignity, equality, education, and the best interests of the child.
The school infrastructure law (the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure) was passed by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on 29 November 2013. For three years, EE members marched, picketed, petitioned, fasted, and went door-to-door in communities, in order for Minister Motshekga to do so. For the first time, South Africa had a piece of law which said that a school must have decent toilets, electricity, water, fencing, classroom numbers, libraries, laboratories and sports fields.
But the school infrastructure law is also at the moment being used to avoid responsibility. This court case is about fixing the unconstitutional loopholes and gaps in the Norms law.
This matter did not have to go to court. For two years we attempted to engage directly with Minister Motshekga to #FixTheNorms. Why does government want to avoid clear timelines and plans for fixing schools?
What are we asking the Bhisho High Court to do?
Equal Education, represented by the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), is highlighting these primary problems:
- The escape clause. The escape clause is a section of the Norms and Standards law that says that the Department of Education (DBE) is only responsible for the fixing of schools to the extent that other parts of the State (such as Eskom or Public Works) cooperate and make resources available. We are asking the court to set aside the escape clause – it is a get out of jail free card. The Norms law sets out important deadlines. The first was on 29 November 2016, by which date there should have been no more schools without water, sanitation, electricity, or that are built from inappropriate structures. The escape clause renders these deadlines (the first of which the State has already violated) as loose targets.
- The wording of the law is “entirely” inappropriate. The school infrastructure law says that schools which are built “entirely” of mud, wood, zinc, or asbestos should have been been fixed by 29 November 2016. This means that if an otherwise entirely inappropriate school has even one structure made of proper building materials, a brick toilet block, for example, government may ignore its duty. The law needs to be tightened so that these schools are fixed urgently.
- The lack of public accountability obligations. The Norms law says that each Education MEC must report annually to Minister Motshekga on the province’s plans and progress with achieving basic infrastructure. EE asks that the court order Minister Motshekga to insert a clause into the law that requires that all infrastructure plans and reports to be made publically available within a reasonable period. We campaigned around the country for more than six months for Minister Motshekga to release the first set of Norms implementation plans. Without these documents, being accessible to learners, teachers and broader communities, how can accountability be ensured?
- The exclusion of schools which have already been scheduled to be built. Schools which before the adoption of the Norms law were already scheduled to be built, improved upon, altered or added to, which have already been catered for within pre-existing three year budget cycles from 2013/14 to 2015/16 are not covered by the Norms law. To totally exclude these schools is arbitrary and irrational. We’re asking the court to declare that all future planning and prioritisation for these schools must be consistent with the school infrastructure law.
Progress in the provision of basic services to schools
The table below demonstrates the progress made since the inception of our school infrastructure campaign, and the promulgating of the school infrastructure law. The data is from the Department of Basic Education’s National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS).
In the last three years, the number of schools that have no water has decreased by 1,601. However, the number of schools that the NEIMS data classifies as having have an unreliable water supply has increased by 2,350. The same pattern is true of electricity. This re-categorisation of schools from having no supply of water and electricity to having an unreliable supply suggests a number of possibilities: unreliable data, shifting definitions of what constitutes access to basic services, and incomplete or limited upgrades to basic services.
Still, the number of schools with no toilets at all, and with pit latrines alone, has decreased markedly from 2011 to 2016. And the rate of school infrastructure delivery has increased in the categories of water and sanitation when comparing the period before the Norms were published (between 2011 to 2013) to the period after they were published (between 2014 and 2016). This underscores the adoption of the Norms law as a momentous victory. However, the unconstitutional provisions in the law cannot stand, as they will allow learners continuing to attend school in unconscionable conditions for years to come.
|South Africa public schools||2011||2013||2016|
How many more children could access dignified school environments, conducive to quality teaching and learning, if the infrastructure law was tightened? For how much longer must learners and teachers in these 9,203 schools have to suffer unsanitary and unsafe pit latrines? At 4,986 schools pit latrines were the ONLY form of toilet, with 1,893 of these in the Eastern Cape.While every newly built is a victory, there are still far too many schools that are in crisis condition – constructed of mud, wood, asbestos, zinc.
Minister Motshekga must #FixTheNorms in order to #FixOurSchools – all schools in need, and within the deadlines stipulated in the Norms law.
EE actions this week
Tomorrow at 4pm, we are holding a roundtable in King William’s Town, at Forbes Grant High School, which was attended by struggle stalwarts such as Steve Biko, Vukile Tshwete, and Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge. We are discussing the history of our school infrastructure campaign and the #FixTheNorms court case with EE learner members, EE staff, teachers, and other education stakeholders.
We will be picketing outside the Bhisho High Court during the hearing on Wednesday 14 March and Thursday 15 March. Our picket will be attended by the family of the late Michael Komape. Michael died at the age of 5, after falling into the dilapidated pit latrine at his school in Chebeng Village, Limpopo. Three years ago, the Komape family granted EE permission to name our school infrastructure campaign in honour of Michael.
What: #FixTheNorms roundtable discussion
Where: Forbes Grant High School, King William’s Town
When: 4pm, Tuesday 13 March
What: #FixTheNorms court case hearing
Where: Bhisho High Court, Eastern Cape
When: 9:30am to 4:30pm, Wednesday 14 March and Thursday 15 March
For further enquiries and media comment:
Luzuko Sidimba (Co-Head of EE Eastern Cape)
Amanda Rinquest (Co-Head of EE Eastern Cape)
Daniel Linde (Deputy Director EE Law Centre)
*Use #FixTheNorms and #FixOurSchools for updates from inside the Bhisho High Court on social media. Proceedings will be accessible via livestream on the Equal Education’s Facebook and Twitter.
*This statement was updated on 15 March.