This morning, the Department of Basic Education (DBE), in partnership with the South African Presidency, the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT), the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched the Sanitation Appropriation for Education (SAFE) Initiative.
Last week, the South African government announced that it will appeal the #FixTheNorms judgment that set deadlines for them to fix school infrastructure, including toilets. The irony cannot be overstated.
The Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure compel government to fix sanitation in schools. Last month, in the Bhisho High Court, Acting Judge Nomawabo Msizi fixed the unconstitutional loopholes in this law, which allowed Basic Education Minister Motshekga to indefinitely delay fulfilling this obligation. The judgment meant that government would be fully bound to meet the deadlines set in the law.
Instead of immediately beginning to improve school infrastructure, Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is now wasting desperately needed State resources and time to appeal the judgment. They are joined in this farce by the nine Provincial Education MECs.
In the wake of Judge Msizi’s positive judgment, on 31 July EE leaders wrote to President Ramaphosa about the need to move forward in efforts to decisively address the ongoing backlog of dangerous and inadequate infrastructure in South Africa’s schools. Critically, we explained to him that we had long wished to avoid recourse to the courts, and had reached out to Minister Motshekga as early as February 2014 to raise issues about the unconstitutional wording of the Norms and Standards.
As we wrote to the President:
“We now have a much stronger legal framework through which learners, parents, teachers and communities can ensure that unsafe and inadequate infrastructure at their schools is fixed.
But it should never have had to take this long, and we should never have needed a court to tell us that the state cannot escape its duty to address the school infrastructure crisis.”
In addition to our letter to the President, we wrote directly to the DBE, noting the need to meet face to face to discuss the challenges facing schools. Furthermore, we expressed concern at the DBE’s comments to the media about the process of reviewing the Norms and Standards. Disappointingly both letters were met with no response from either the President or the DBE.
EE is deeply disappointed by the actions of the DBE. DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told Business Day that the DBE had already begun reviewing the Norms and Standards, and did not intend to appeal the judgment. It is confusing then that the DBE would publicly ‘note’ the judgment with no intention to appeal yet wait until the last day to file their application.
Yet again, government chooses to dodge its constitutional, legal and moral duties to #FixOurSchools.
Despite our best efforts to ensure that no more time, energy and public resources were spent dragging the issue through the courts, President Ramaphosa, Minister Motshekga, and the nine Education MECs would rather waste time and money in court than actually repair and rebuild schools. Their decision to appeal the #FixTheNorms judgment jeopardises the fight for quality teaching and learning, and the immediate safety of learners. It is an incomprehensible and unconscionable collective dereliction of duty.
It is difficult to reconcile the SAFE Initiative launched today, with the State’s lodging of an appeal, in which it argues that it is not obliged to urgently fix schools, and its unwillingness to release school infrastructure improvement plans timeously, necessitating a Promotion of Access to Information application. Still, despite our application, the Eastern Cape has without explanation failed to provide its improvement plans, which should by law have been prepared by November 2017. Just last month the State missed its date to file with the Polokwane High Court, a plan to eliminate pit-latrines in Limpopo as required in the Komape case judgment, instead filing a last minute application to extend the Court set deadline.
Nevertheless, EE will carefully study the proposed intervention, cross-sectoral attempts to systematically improve school infrastructure within the correct regulatory framework must be welcomed.
As a movement, we are deeply disappointed and frustrated that the DBE and the President have failed to acknowledge our efforts to engage them following the Bhisho High Court’s judgment, choosing to continue this prolonged and unnecessary court battle instead of focusing on protecting the safety and education of South African children and learners.
We have informed the President that the time for debating the lives of our children in court must be over. In our letter to him we wrote:
“We did not want to go to court to fix the Norms and Standards, and we do not want to have to go back. The years of spending time and money on litigating should be past. South Africa’s children can no longer afford it.”
We call on our President, our Minister of Basic Education and all nine Education MECs to recognise the criticalness of the Bhisho High Court’s judgment, and to accept it, in the spirit of protecting the dignity, safety and future of South African learners.
We say #StopTheAppeal and #FixOurSchools!
For media comment:
Noncedo Madubedube (Equal Education General Secretary) firstname.lastname@example.org
Sibabalwe Gcilitshana (Equal Education Parliamentary Officer) email@example.com.
Daniel Linde (Deputy Director Equal Education Law Centre) firstname.lastname@example.org