8 February 2024
Media statement: Ramaphosa’s government: A history of broken promises to school communities
Tonight, President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver his State of the Nation Address (SONA) to open the parliamentary year officially, report on the status of the country, and outline his government’s policy priorities for the year. This SONA will be President Ramaphosa’s final opportunity to take stock of the achievements and failures of government under his leadership. This will also be an opportunity to listen out for insights on the foundation being laid for the next administration.
In his first SONA as President in 2018, Ramaphosa boldly declared that this was the ushering in of a “new dawn”. A good look at the time under his leadership shows that many South Africans have yet to experience a glimpse of this “new dawn”. This is particularly true for the schooling sector, where poor conditions like overcrowding, dilapidated infrastructure, and unsafe learning environments continue to compromise the constitutional rights of black learners in rural and working-class communities.
In that first SONA in 2018, the President also promised that “Government will continue to invest in expanding access to quality basic education and improving the outcomes of our public schools”. However, since 2019/20, Ramaphosa’s government has only managed to improve spending on basic education by a measly 0.43% in real terms (when inflation is taken into account). If we consider the increasing cost of providing education services and increasing learner enrollment, this means that this government has actively deprioritised schooling. It is, therefore, unsurprising that basic education has been paid lip service in previous SONAs.
In the SONAs after that, Ramaphosa boasted of the success of his administration in tackling key issues confronting the schooling sector. Yet, these successes are not reflected in the state of the sector. For example, in his 2019 SONA, Ramaphosa praised the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) programme—introduced to speed up the eradication of infrastructure backlogs—where he promised that all outstanding ASIDI projects would be completed by the end of the next (2020/21) financial year. The President also touted the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) Initiative—aimed at providing appropriate sanitation—claiming that all pit toilets would be eradicated from schools by the end of 2022.
Even with a binding law, the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, the school infrastructure crisis remains an uphill battle for government. Despite the President’s assurances of the ASIDI and SAFE programmes, infrastructure backlogs persist. More importantly, 30 years into democracy we still have over 700 schools nationwide using illegal dangerous pit toilets as their only form of sanitation.
We have also heard several promising announcements for basic education, including the provision of digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device to every school child; the introduction of coding and robotics, and other ‘4IR’ skills into the curriculum; the development of digital infrastructure at 18 000 schools for connectivity; improved access to the Early Childhood Development (ECD) subsidy for ECD centres; substantially improved reading comprehension in the first years of school; and creating safe learning environments.
Many of these promises and commitments are still works-in-progress at best, with budgetary constraints often blamed for or used to justify this government’s failure to fulfil the range of different commitments made by the President. Ramaphosa has on numerous occasions emphasised the importance of safe learning environments, yet our school communities are increasingly being plagued by all sorts of violence, requiring intentional psychosocial support interventions that are not in place.
We shudder to imagine what progress this government has made in its commitment to provide 14 million learners with tablets. Assuming he delivered on this promise, it would be interesting to see how effective these devices are when the digital divide in this country is so pronounced. For example, only 4% of schools in Limpopo and 10% of Eastern Cape schools have access to the Internet for teaching and learning. Even the SA Connect infrastructure project, to provide 18 000 schools with uncapped wi-fi, achieved way less than that number.
While the migration of ECD centres to basic education signalled a commitment to subsidising important care services to improve long-term educational outcomes, the ECD subsidy of R17 per eligible child per day has not changed since 2019. The sum is insufficient to provide adequate care, nutrition, education, and stimulation for the millions of children who require it. The lack of adequate foundational investments, together with the fact that many (70%) of our public schools still lack libraries, may explain why the majority of the country’s children cannot read for meaning in any language.
Since taking office, the President and his government have shown no urgency and little political will concerning the future of the country’s children, an obvious place to invest in addressing the ever-rising levels of unemployment, inequality, and poverty. This is clear in this government’s record of unfinished business and broken promises. As we head into elections this year, we need to demand a greater level of sincerity from our future government. The public deserves leaders who stand by their commitments, not ones who promise new dawns but deliver #EducationBlackouts.
This year’s SONA provides the President and his government with a last opportunity to address issues that concern us most. The schooling sector does not need more of the same. Instead, we hope this SONA serves as a crucial moment for real accountability. In between the cliches, quoting passed comrades, and awkward metaphors, this SONA needs to recognise the need for urgent and targeted investment and action in addressing the poly-crisis in the sector threatening learners’ future. This is the only pronouncement that will help us #FixOurSchools.
To arrange a media interview, contact:
Sesethu August (Equal Education Communications Officer) firstname.lastname@example.org
WhatsApp: 083 890 8723
Call: 063 221 7983
Please quote: Equal Education researchers Mahfouz Raffee and Elizabeth Biney