18 September 2018
Equal Education media statement: Minister Motshekga’s remarks reflect zero understanding of co-operative governance
In a media statement issued yesterday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga remarks that the recent school infrastructure judgment of the Bhisho High Court forces her department to take responsibility for that which it has “zero control over”.
Minister Motshekga is referring to what Equal Education (EE) calls the “escape clause”. This clause in the current phrasing of the Norms and Standards law states that infrastructure standards in schools need only be met if co-operation and resources are forthcoming from “other government agencies and entities responsible for infrastructure in general”.
The implication of this escape clause is that if Eskom, implementing agents, municipalities, or Treasury failed to come to the party, continued generations of learners would suffer the infrastructural legacy of apartheid and colonialism in schools. The Bhisho High Court declared this clause of the Norms and Standards as “inconsistent” with the Constitution, with the South African Schools Act, and with the 2013 court order secured by EE. The escape clause was thus “unlawful and invalid”. The Court said the escape clause provides a “lifetime indemnity” against delivering fundamental rights to South African children.
Minister Motshekga’s comments reflect a misunderstanding of the implications of this judgment. The judgment enhances intergovernmental cooperation, and ensures that it does not fall only on the national and provincial education departments to deliver safe and adequate schools. Minister Motshekga and the nine Education MECs seem to think it does the opposite.
The judgment recognises that government as a whole has the responsibility to provide schools that are safe and that enable quality teaching and learning. It prevents any government entity from evading that responsibility, and for example allows Education Departments to demand that Treasury provide them enough money to meet the Norms and Standards deadlines.
The effect of leaving the escape clause in tact, as Minister Motshekga and the MECs seek to do with their appeal, is to hamstring the national and provincial Education Departments from being able to effectively call on their fellow organs of State to ensure that the deadlines stipulated by the law are met.
Minister Motshekga and the nine MECs are not only appealing the escape clause aspect of the judgment, they are also fighting against complying with basic accountability measures. The Court instructed Minister Motshekga to amend the Norms and Standards so that school infrastructure plans and progress reports are made publicly available within a reasonable time after she receives them from provincial education departments. Why appeal against this when it is so crucial in allowing learners, teachers and parents to know what is planned and to monitor progress?
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is now wasting desperately needed government resources and time to appeal the judgment. In July we wrote to him about the need to move forward in decisively addressing the ongoing backlog of dangerous and inadequate infrastructure in South Africa’s schools. A response has not materialised.
If Minister Motshekga and the nine Education MECs had their way, there would be zero deadlines by which to fix schools, and zero accountability.
For media comment:
Sibabalwe Gcilitshana (Equal Education Parliamentary Officer) firstname.lastname@example.org