12 March 2019
Equal Education media statement: Minister Angie Motshekga must now amend Norms and Standards as court ordered, make school infrastructure documents public, and effect intergovernmental cooperation
On 29 November 2016 it became illegal for any school to be without proper sanitation. The Norms and Standards law, promulgated three years earlier, states: “Plain pit latrines are not allowed at schools”. Yet for learners and teachers at 3 898 schools, plain pit latrines are the only form of sanitation. There are now zero excuses for the national and provincial education department to not #FixOurSchools according to the deadlines stipulated by the Norms and Standards.
A court judgment, handed down in July 2018, fixed five loopholes in the Norms and Standards – a historic victory for South Africa’s learners. In November 2018, the Constitutional Court dismissed an application for leave to appeal against that victory, which was filed by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and all nine Education MECs.
Minister Motshekga now owes the public the following documents, which are crucial for learners, teachers, parents and the broader public to monitor school infrastructure delivery:
- The amendment to the Norms and Standards (the judgment ordered Minister Motshekga to rewrite the clause relating to making infrastructure reports public);
- The annual provincial school infrastructure implementation plans, and the progress reports (the latest reports were due in 2018);
- A revised plan to fix school toilets in Limpopo (as required by the Polokwane High Court) that includes emergency interim measures to protect learners from dangerous plain pit latrines;
- SAFE Initiative reports which explains how funding is disbursed and details construction at each school site; and
- The 2019 National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) report.
The Minimum Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure (Norms and Standards), were promulgated in law by Motshekga in November 2013, due to the relentless activism of EE members. The Norms and Standards stipulate the infrastructure necessities for every public school, along with service delivery deadlines. Since 2013, we have been monitoring government’s compliance with the implementation of the Norms and Standards in the nine provinces.
Minister Motshekga, has bandied about the idea of the establishment of an education infrastructure unit. She has suggested that this parastatal-like entity would better manage the responsibility of overseeing school infrastructure delivery than the DBE.
Minister Motshekga posits that such a unit would “improve efficiency and manage costs”. Ironically, she uses her inability to hold other government departments and entities accountable for poor service delivery, and yet she and the nine MECs used public funds to appeal the very judgment that enhances intergovernmental cooperation – the Norms and Standards law grants Motshekga and the MECs the power to instruct other organs of State to fulfill their responsibilities. Should a department such as Public Works fail to do so, Motshekga may launch an intergovernmental dispute. Our research report which explains the role of implementing agents in building schools, contains immediately implementable recommendations to assist Minister Motshekga in improving efficiency and managing costs.
The notion of the establishment of an education infrastructure unit is yet another moment in which we must bear witness to Minister Motshekga’s attempt to evade responsibility to provide school infrastructure that is conducive to quality teaching and learning. It began with a refusal to adopt the Norms and Standards law, then the refusal to fix unconstitutional loopholes, then a long list of excuses for poor service delivery that relied on those loopholes, and then outright stating that her department simply cannot afford to implement the Norms and Standards. Government then attempted to fight against its responsibilities to learners and teachers in the country’s highest court. Now, with a concrete regulatory framework finally in place, the Minister throws around a half-baked idea for a new parastatal.
The right to education
The right to education is not realised when learners do not have access to a textbook or a teacher, or when there is the risk of a classroom roof collapsing on learners or of learners drowning in a school pit latrine. Over her 10 years as Minister of Basic Education, Motshekga has fought against numerous efforts to give substance to the definition of the right to education, including court cases which have ruled that textbooks, classroom furniture, and scholar transport are necessary to realise the right to basic education. The Ministry of Basic Education is the custodian of the right to basic education and tasked with the Constitutional responsibility of realising that right – in its entirety.
Building a capable State
As we approach the end of an administration, it is important for government to continue to strive to be better with each electoral term. This means building a capable State, one that uses existing mechanisms to uphold the law and does not evade the responsibility it has to provide basic services, protected by the highest law in the country, the Constitution. We will not accept excuses for the government as a whole failing to meet the constitutional mandate to work together in the delivery of fundamental rights, with a focus on those most in need. If we are working to build a capable State, we have to demand better of Minister Motshekga, the nine education MECs and the government at large. We have existing institutions and mechanisms, and it’s high time government started putting them to use for the benefit of our country and most importantly our learners. Public funds are better spent improving existing systems. We cannot outsource the work for every time government fails to fulfil its duties, but we can fix and recapacitate weak government departments.