Equal Education media statement: Victories in 2022 in the struggle for quality and equal education for all in South Africa
This year, Equal Education (EE) members – learners (Equalisers), post-school youths, parents and teachers have made important progress in the struggle for quality and equal education for all in South Africa. These victories range from a new school being built for learners after eight years of sustained efforts by EE members in the Eastern Cape, to impacting the whole education system as our call for the reversal of budget cuts made to the education budget becomes a reality. Here are some of them.
- Government’s plan to provide proper toilets to Limpopo schools includes building toilets at schools EE has been fighting for – February 2022
After years of campaigning for the Limpopo Department of Education (LDoE) to urgently replace undignified, unsafe and unlawful school toilets, the LDoE has finally developed a proper infrastructure plan to make it happen.
This comes six years after the Komape court case, led by SECTION27, began. In 2018, EE represented by the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), was admitted to the case as amicus curiae (a friend of the court), to support the Komape family’s claim. In the same year the Polokwane High Court ordered the LDoE and DBE to develop a reasonable plan for getting rid of all pit toilets in all Limpopo schools (the structural order). In August 2018 the DBE and LDoE provided the court with an implementation plan that stated that due to budgetary constraints, they would need until 2031 to get rid of plain pit toilets in Limpopo.
This deadline was unreasonable and unlawful in terms of the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure (school infrastructure law). So, in February 2020 we revisited 15 of the 18 schools we had visited in 2017 to see if the LDoE had made any improvements to the water supply and toilet facilities in these schools, and to include this information in our supplementary affidavit to the court in the Komape case.
In September 2021, the Polokwane High Court ruled that the first draft of the plan of the Minister of Basic Education and of the LDoE, to take 14 years to get rid of plain pit toilets in Limpopo schools, was unconstitutional and failed to meet the requirements of the structural order that was granted by the court in 2018. Following this the LDoE and DBE provided the court with a new plan to fix school sanitation in December 2021.
We finally got our hands on the new implementation plan in February this year, and saw that 14 of the 15 schools we visited and inspected in 2020 were included in the plan. This is a victory for schools like Botsikana Secondary where 17 of the 19 toilets we inspected in 2020 were broken, as well as for Mashianoke Primary where learners solely relied on pit toilets.
In this plan, schools that rely on plain pits as their only form of toilets are categorised as priority one. The plan states that priority one schools should have proper toilets built by the end of the 2022/23 financial year. Schools that do not have enough proper toilets will be provided with relief by the end of the 2026/27 financial year – however this is in violation of the school infrastructure law, which demands that schools should have been provided with enough toilets by 2020.
This means that many learners will no longer have to wait their whole school careers to have access to safe and decent toilets. However, in the past the LDoE has struggled to meet its moral and legal commitments to school communities. EE will be monitoring that the LDoE sticks to the plan and the deadlines!
- Cuts made to the education budget because of COVID-19 are reversed, and the 2022 education budget has also increased in line with inflation – February 2022
The amount of money that government set aside for basic education in 2022 – for both national and provincial education departments – has increased by almost R20 billion from what was projected in last year’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS). The National Treasury initially said that basic education funding would decrease this year (when inflation is taken into account), but the budget was revised to keep up with inflation. The new amount is also more than the projections made by Treasury in February 2020 and therefore shows a return to what was planned before COVID-19 budget cuts were implemented. This is a victory – we have been calling for the COVID-19 cuts made to basic education to be reversed! However, this trend will not continue into 2023 and 2024, which again means less money for the schooling system. It is a victory that the deep budget cuts made during COVID-19 are not continuing but we still have a long way to go for government to properly prioritise money to #FixOurSchools!
- Learners return to school full time – February 2022
After 18 months of EE calling for an end to the rotational timetable system, government in February finally decided to let all learners return to their classrooms everyday. This was an important victory because the rotational timetable system – which was meant to be a temporary, emergency response to COVID-19 – was making the existing inequality in schooling worse. It negatively affected learners’ access to school meals and to counselling, and their ability to learn.
EE’s advocacy, alongside other civil society organisations, included:
- Submitting feedback on various versions of the DBE’s Directions on managing COVID-19 in schools, throughout 2021, emphasising the importance of policies that protect learners’ time in schools;
- Participating in multiple meetings with the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT), Parliamentary committees and the DBE, to discuss strategies that could be used to safely bring the rotational timetable system to an end;
- Writing to provincial education departments last year, requesting their plans to ensure that all learners got back to school safely full time;
- Using the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to request the plans of the national and provincial education departments to support schools in ensuring the safe and full-time return of learners to schools; and
- Writing an open letter last year to the Minister of Basic Education, Minister of Health, and the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, emphasising the urgency of bringing an end to the rotational timetable system.
- Delegates at our 4th national Congress elect new members to represent them on our movement’s National Council (board) – May 2022
Delegates at the EE 4th national Congress elected new members to represent them on our movement’s National Council (board). Noncedo Madubedube will be leading our movement for another three years as General Secretary, while Gauteng Organiser Tebogo Tsesane was elected as our new Deputy General Secretary.
The new Chairperson of the National Council is Sindisa Monakali, the former Deputy Chairperson of the National Council. Grade 10 learner Yolanda Sewela is the new Equaliser Deputy Chairperson, and University of Johannesburg student Lawrence Manaka is the new Post-School Youth Deputy Chairperson of the National Council.
The two-day Congress was attended by delegates elected to represent EE branches in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Western Cape and Gauteng. These branches include learner, parent, post-school youth, teacher and staff members of our movement. EE’s outgoing leadership presented three-year reports on our governance, operations and finance. Amendments to EE’s constitution were adopted and resolutions were passed to give our new National Council a clear sense of our movement’s goals and guiding principles up to 2025.
- The revised Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill includes key recommendations from EE and the EELC – May 2022
In 2017 and 2019, EE made submissions on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill. BELA is changing key education related laws, namely the South African Schools Act (SASA) and the Employment of Educators Act (EEA). In 2021, government released an updated version of BELA, which incorporated a number of suggestions that we recommended in our submissions. These include that:
- SGBs must be consulted before a learner is placed in a school by the provincial education department, and that an SGB must be able to appeal the decision;
- If an appeal has been filed by a parent or learner related to admission, the time for a decision to be made and communicated to the parents and learner has been shortened to 14 days;
- A learner may be exempted from complying with certain provisions of a school code of conduct rather than the entire code of conduct; and
- The 2017 draft BELA Bill required the input of the SGB for the posting of only entry-level teachers in schools. EE submitted it was problematic to remove school level input for posts higher than entry level. EE recommended that SGBs retain input on all levels of teacher posts and this was accepted.
- After nearly eight years, learners of Vukile Tshwete High School finally move into their new building – June 2022
After nearly eight years of pressure from EE, learners and teachers at Vukile Tshwete Secondary School in Keiskammahoek in the Eastern Cape have finally moved into a new school building. Construction of the new school started in April 2019. Until now, learners and teachers have had to put up with a school that was made of asbestos and wood structures, with an unreliable electricity supply and plain pit latrines. Over the years we have demanded action from the ECDOE and the implementing agent responsible for managing the building project (Coega Development Corporation) – by holding pickets, marches, night vigils, and relentlessly pursuing regular meetings with both of these key stakeholders. The move comes as an important victory for the school community of Vukile Tshwete as learners have been spared from spending another winter in a school that was literally falling apart. However, the struggle for better school infrastructure and project transparency continues, as many schools in the Eastern Cape wait for their turn to be fixed.
- Teacher at Cape Town school sentenced to five years in prison for sexually assaulting a learner – June 2022
In 2017, EE members and other learners from a high school in Cape Town protested against a teacher who was not suspended while he was being investigated by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) for the sexual assault of a learner at the school he taught at. At that time, the court case against him had started. In that same year, the WCED investigated the same teacher for hitting a learner (corporal punishment). EE then published this statement on behalf of the protesting learners that explained how badly they were affected by this. EE continued to support the learner and his family during the court case by attending the hearings alongside the learner. In March of this year, the teacher was found guilty on two counts of sexual assault and in June, was sentenced to five years imprisonment. EE members will continue to ensure that teachers are held to account for their actions and that those affected get justice.
- Learners at JB Mathabane Secondary School secure new desks and chairs through school-based action – July 2022
Equalisers at JB Matabane Secondary School in Tembisa Gauteng organised their own picket at their school to demand that toilets must be fixed, more classrooms must be built, and for desks and chairs to be provided. EE released a media alert on behalf of the learners at JB Matabane in which they share the challenges that “undermine the process of learning”. Learners of JB Matabane Secondary called for, and demanded a well maintained and resourced school that will help them attain their basic right to education as outlined by S29 of the Constitution. The GDE visited the school to receive the learners’ memorandum of demands. The GDE were given seven days to respond to the memorandum, and on 21 July 2022, the school received 200 new chairs and 200 new tables – a victory for the learners at JB Matabane.
- Department of Basic Education announces Special Intervention Programme for Overcrowding – August 2022
In November 2021, Equal Education (EE) launched its overcrowding campaign, #NoSpaceForUs, and published its research report in which we explore the causes and effects of overcrowding in Gauteng’s schools. In July 2022, at the African National Congress (ANC) Policy Conference, Chairperson of the ANC’s Education Subcommittee Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma stated that school overcrowding must be urgently dealt with. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has also announced a Special Intervention on Overcrowding in Schools (SIPOS). According to a stakeholder meeting between the DBE’s Director General Mathanzima Mweli and EE, SIPOS is currently being discussed with National Treasury – this means a potential increase in the education budget for the purpose of reducing school overcrowding. SIPOS aims to provide brick and mortar classrooms instead of mobile classrooms.
- Western Cape Education Department announces major infrastructure delivery project to make space for the growing number of learners in the province – November 2022
EE is committed to ensuring that every learner in South Africa realises their constitutional right to basic education. In anticipation of the yearly admissions crisis in the province, EE has repeatedly engaged the WCED on this issue, especially on behalf of those learners entering Grade 1 and Grade 8 who are especially affected. In October 2020, we wrote to former Education MEC Debbie Schäfer and former Head of Department Brian Schreuder requesting clear and detailed plans for learner admissions in the province, including, among other things, the plans made to support the expected learner growth in the Western Cape. EE has also referred learners to the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) for assistance and EE parent members have been central in identifying affected learners and have picketed outside the WCED’s offices over concerns with the province’s admissions process.
In a briefing to the Western Cape Provincial Parliament’s Standing Committee in November 2022, the WCED announced plans to make an extra 26 000 seats available in classrooms in the province. This plan includes the Rapid School Build Programme that aims to build seven schools in the province within six months. We hope that the WCED has acknowledged the urgency needed to resolve the serious problems with school admissions. EE will closely monitor the progress made as the plan unfolds.