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Equal Education media statement: Victories in 2023 in the struggle for quality and equal education for all in South Africa

14 December 2023

Equal Education media statement: Victories in 2023 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 staff—have made important progress in the struggle for quality and equal education for all in South Africa. Our victories range from winning changes for specific schools (new desks and chairs in Gauteng) to impacting the whole education system (launching our impactful infrastructure report “Schooling under unusual conditions”). Here are some of them.

  • Yoliswa Dwane Memorial Public Lecture – February 2023 

EE, in partnership with the Centre for Law and Society at the University of Cape Town, hosted the first public Memorial Lecture in February in memory of our co-founder Yoliswa Dwane. Yoliswa, affectionately known as Sis Yoli, passed away on 21 October 2022 having been ill. Sis Yoli dedicated over a decade of her life to EE, rooting our struggle in the circumstances of rural and township schools.  

The lecture also celebrated EE’s 15th anniversary of advancing the struggle for quality and equal education. The lecture was delivered by Advocate Jason Brickhill, who spoke on the theme “Every generation has its struggle –- Activism and law in the struggle for social justice”. Adv Brickhill paid tribute to the contributions Sis Yoli made to education justice in South Africa and shared memories of the time he spent working alongside her in the campaign for securing the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure. 

He said of her, “I remember her during that Norms and Standards time as being direct, decisive, and straight-forward. She was not one for long emails when a short one would do. She was all about the movement and its objectives, not about getting attention or acclaim.”

We will continue to celebrate Sis Yoli’s legacy by hosting the Yoliswa Dwane Memorial Lecture annually. 

  • Launch of our school safety report, iSafety Ngoku: Seeking sanctuary in Western Cape schools – March 2023

In March, the Western Cape and Research departments launched the Western Cape school safety report, “iSafety Ngoku: Seeking sanctuary in Western Cape schools”. This research report is the result of a series of school inspections conducted in August and September 2019 to assess safety conditions at 40 schools across four school districts in Cape Town. The release of the safety report took the form of a week-long social media campaign, and an online panel discussion with EE learner members and Organisers focusing on the main findings of the report. Learners also shared how safety challenges at school have affected their well-being and schooling experience.

In September, we presented the findings and recommendations of our report to the Western Cape Provincial Parliament Standing Committee on Education. 

  • The Western Cape Education Department commits R76.1 million to promote the safety of learners and schools in the Western Cape – March 2023

In March, amidst the week-long launch of our Western Cape school safety report, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) made the announcement they were committing R76.1 million to promote the safety of learners and schools in the Western Cape. 

We welcome the WCED’s announcement and hope that this will help schools meet the four pillars identified in ouriSafety Ngoku” report. This is a positive sign of the department’s commitment to #FixOurSchools and a huge victory for our #SafeSchools campaign. It is promising to see that the department is prioritising school safety in its budget allocations. We will continue to monitor how this money is spent and the progress made in addressing safety challenges in Western Cape schools. 

  • National Treasury extends the School Infrastructure Backlogs Grant for another three years to help tackle overcrowding in schools – April 2023

We welcomed the decision by National Treasury in April to maintain the School Infrastructure Backlogs Grant (SIGB) for another three financial years and the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) decision to put overcrowding on its national agenda for 2023. This decision came at a time when a lot of work still needs to be done to address huge school  infrastructure backlogs. 

The SIBG, which gives the DBE funds to address the worst school infrastructure problems through the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) programme, was meant to end in March 2023 without having met its original targets. The extension of this grant is a big victory because we have in the past raised concerns about National Treasury’s proposed merging of the SIBG into the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG). The extension of the SIBG will provide much-needed additional funds to help reduce the current infrastructure crisis.

  • EE demands urgent sanitation relief for all priority 1 schools in Limpopo – April 2023 

EE members marched to the Limpopo Department of Education (LDoE) in Polokwane in April 2023 to demand urgent sanitation relief for all priority 1 schools. Priority 1 schools are schools with illegal dangerous plain pit latrines as their only form of sanitation. Plain pit latrines were completely banned from schools by the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure in 2013 and had to be removed and replaced by 2016.

According to the LDoE’s revised implementation plan submitted to the High Court in 2021, these schools should have received sanitation upgrades by March 2023. The LDoE’s latest progress report shows that 52 priority 1 schools are still in the planning and design phases of development. 

Our demands at the march included: 

  • Urgent sanitation relief for priority 1 schools such as Tutwana Primary School and Seipone Secondary School.
  • The immediate provision of mobile toilets to these schools as a short-term interim intervention based on their implementation plan, while the department works swiftly in providing permanent proper toilets.

In September 2023, we were pleased to learn that the department had started construction on new sanitation blocks at three priority 1 schools we organise in — Kgolokgotla Secondary School, Seipone Secondary School and Mmatshipi Secondary School. Though the construction of the toilets at these schools has started after the initial 31 March 2023 deadline, we recognise that progress is being made. We remain cautiously optimistic and will continue to monitor the progress of these construction projects. 

  • We kick off our civic education campaign aiming to build youth power beyond the ballot – April 2023

As the 2024 general election approaches, we are intensifying our commitment to movement building and political education through our civic education campaign to build youth power beyond the ballot. This campaign is designed to empower young people, encourage their active participation in the democratic process, and foster engagement beyond voting. In pursuit of this goal, we organised a roadshow in August and September where our democratically elected representatives from the National Council (board) connected and engaged our members. Furthermore, we led dynamic teach-in sessions, providing our members with an opportunity to delve deeper into the practises of democracy within our communities and the world. Our campaign provides a platform for open dialogue, allowing members to gain insights into our internal and external democratic practices and principles.

  • EE in KwaZulu-Natal takes on water and sanitation as a campaign  – May 2023 

EE visited 12 schools in Nquthu, Umzinyathi District, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) in May 2023 as part of our ongoing effort to eradicate use of plain pit toilets in schools. This visit follows our decision to take on water and sanitation as a campaign in the province following the completion of our learner transport campaign. We spoke with school principals, learners, parents, and members of school governing bodies to gain a better understanding of the quality of water and sanitation facilities at these schools. KZN, Limpopo, and Eastern Cape have the highest sanitation backlogs, and these school visits were a horrifying reminder that it has been 10 years since the Basic Education Minister signed the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure into law and yet children remain on the periphery and still have to contend with inadequate and inappropriate sanitation.

  • The construction of new toilets started at Imiqhayi Secondary School in Mount Coke in the Eastern Cape – June 2023

In June, construction of new toilets started at Imiqhayi Secondary School in Mount Coke in the Eastern Cape. The R5.1 million construction project is a long awaited victory for learners at the school who have had to make use of illegal pit toilets since before EE started organising in the school in 2016.  

  • Mail & Guardian Budget roundtable – September 2023

EE’s Research department participated in and presented at a roundtable themed “Reflecting on public budgeting and inclusive governance: The role of policy, oversight and activism”. The roundtable was co-hosted by SAHTAC, Imali Yethu and Mail & Guardian. This was a gathering of budget stakeholders including, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Parliamentary Budget Office, budget analysts and CSOs. The presentation was featured in the article: “Bridging the gap: Realigning planning and budgeting in SA” published by the Mail & Guardian.  

  • The Department of Basic Education reaches settlement in the SAOU case  – October 2023

The South African Teachers’ Union (SAOU) brought a case against the Department of Basic Education (DBE) challenging the lawfulness, rationality, and enforceability of Regulation 9 in the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure. Regulation 9 relates to the size of classrooms and the minimum space allocated for each learner and educator in the classroom. 

Although the matter did not go to court because the DBE and SAOU reached a settlement agreement, through EE’s intervention—assisted by the Equal Education Law Centre—in the matter the DBE has committed to developing school capacity norms within three years of the agreement (2026). The DBE’s public commitment to regulating school capacity is a big victory because this is one key demand from our GP overcrowding campaign.

  • EE secures the delivery of 440 desks and 400 chairs at schools in Gauteng – October 2023

EE in Gauteng and the Research department visited nine schools in Etwatwa, Daveyton and Kwatsaduza to monitor and assess the classroom overcrowding conditions in these schools. After our visits, we drafted and sent a letter to the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) to demand desks and chairs for three of the schools we visited – Amos Maphanga Secondary, Tholulwazi Secondary, and Tembisa West Secondary schools.   

In October, we received news that the GDE delivered a total of 440 desks and 400 chairs to these schools – a victory for the learners who had to learn in classrooms with broken furniture. Amos Maphanga Secondary School in Etwatwa received 200 chairs and 100 desks; Tholulwazi Secondary School in Tsakane received 200 chairs and 200 desks, and Tembisa West Secondary School in Tembisa received 140 desks.

In November, our Research department participated in a Gauteng Legislature Education Portfolio Committee stakeholder engagement where we shared our concerns related to the GDE’s annual report and  recommendations for eradicating overcrowding in schools from our overcrowding report, “No Space For Us – Understanding overcrowding in Gauteng’s schools”.

  • Our Research department participates in the BottomUp Youth Summit – October 2023

EE’s Research department participated in BottomUp’s Everything Must Change Summit in October 2023. We sat on the ‘Police in Schools’ panel alongside the Equal Education Law Centre, Advancement Project (USA) and Kids of Colour (UK), where we discussed the four pillars of school safety identified in our iSafety Ngoku report.

  • Strengthening EE’s leadership through the co-option of National Council (board) members – November 2023

The Office of the General Secretary with the support of the heads of provinces conducted a national democratic process to elect representatives to the National Council (NC). This process was undertaken to enhance the capabilities of EE’s highest decision-making body. The purpose of this democratic process was to thoughtfully select individuals who align with the values and goals of EE and to elevate the decision-making capabilities of this body.

The co-opted members include:  

Post-school youth representative, Thanduxolo Mncube

  • KwaZulu-Natal Provincial representative, Zamashaba Lushaba
  • Secretariat, Equaliser representative, Lisakhanya Mahlomi 
  • Secretariat, Deputy Chairperson Post-school youth, Makanatsa Ziyambi
  • Ordinary National Council, Nika Soon-Shiong
  • Ordinary National Council, Ayabonga Cawe
  • Ordinary National Council, Mbekezeli Benjamin


  • Release of the school infrastructure report on how school infrastructure impacts teaching and learning ten years after the signing into law of the school infrastructure law – November 2023

On 20 November, the Research department launched a research report, “Schooling under unusual conditions – Research into how school infrastructure shapes teaching and learning in South Africa” as part of our #FixOurSchools campaign. The report takes a closer look at the relationship between the physical conditions of the school environment and teaching and learning. The report examines how school infrastructure shapes teaching and learning, and how addressing infrastructure conditions can improve learning outcomes.

Key findings from the report show that not having enough classrooms, having classrooms with too many learners (overcrowded classrooms), and having facilities in poor condition harm the motivation of both learners and teachers. Overcrowded classrooms make it more likely that teachers and learners are regularly absent from school. Poor school infrastructure conditions affect the quality of teachers’ performance and their general attitude towards their job, all of which indirectly impact the schooling experience of learners and learning outcomes.

  • A decade of Norms and Standards advocacy for better public school infrastructure – November 2023

In November, EE and partner civil society organisations called on Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to urgently fulfil the legal obligations set out in the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, which she signed into law 10 years ago (29 November 2013). 

EE, Equal Education Law Centre, SECTION27, Legal Resources Centre, Centre for Child Law, the Bookery and Right2Protest hosted a press conference outside of the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) offices in Pretoria to demand urgent attention to the infrastructure crisis plaguing the sector.

At the press conference, representatives from these organisations read a joint open letter, addressed to Minister Motshekga, expressing our concern and disappointment that, despite 10 years since the promulgation of the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, many schools’ infrastructure conditions have not improved.

EE in the Eastern Cape also marched to the Eastern Cape Department of Education’s (ECDoE) offices in Zwelitsha to demand accountability from the DBE and ECDoE for the unmet deadlines in the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure.


Leanne Jansen-ThomasEqual Education media statement: Victories in 2023 in the struggle for quality and equal education for all in South Africa