Equal Education year in review: 2019

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Equal Education year in review: 2019

16 December 2019

This note is intended to assist journalists who are working toward 2019 year-in-review articles or broadcasts, related to education in South Africa.

As 2019 draws to a close, Equal Education (EE) again reflects on a year where significant progress was made in our core objectives of advancing quality and equal education for all South Africans. This note focuses on the some of the key advances in advocacy and activism led by over 5 000 high school-going young people – Equalisers – from five different provinces.

EE and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) secure recommendation for Constitutional amendment to better protect learners’ rights – March 2019 

Parliament’s Constitutional Review Committee adopted our recommendations to amend Section 100 of the Constitution, in accordance with a submission made by EE and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC). 

Our submission to the Committee argues that Section 100 of the Constitution ought to be changed, to improve its effectiveness. Section 100 of the Constitution may be used by national government, as an extreme measure, to take over the functions of a provincial government when service delivery has broken down, and to restore a basic level of functioning.    

We put forward that learners’ rights would be better protected if Section 100 was amended to require more strict oversight, and if legislation was passed that would clearly and carefully regulate the intervention process. We further propose that a subsection be introduced to place an obligation on the national executive to report at least quarterly, in writing and orally, to the National Council of Provinces on the progress achieved and the challenges encountered in implementing the intervention.

We are looking forward to the implementation of our proposed amendments. Read an extended summary here

Construction of Vukile Tshwete Secondary (Eastern Cape) finally gets underway – April 2019 

Following five years of sustained effort by EE members, construction of the new site of Vukile Tshwete Secondary in the Eastern Cape finally started in April 2019. This  comes after we demanded action from the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDoE) and the school infrastructure implementing agent Coega Development Corporation –  holding pickets, marches, night vigils, and relentlessly pursuing regular meetings with both these key stakeholders. 

The old Vukile Tshwete Secondary building consisted of precarious wood structures, and the school’s electricity supply was limited to the admin office. Sanitation facilities were ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrines for teachers, and plain pit latrines for learners – despite plain pit latrines being banned by the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure.

Currently, the contractor is still on site and construction is running according to schedule. 

Equalisers and other EE members celebrate this progress, and we will continue to advocate for decent school infrastructure for the learners in the Eastern Cape and South Africa. 

Convicted fraudster Zukisa Faku removed from Parliament’s Basic Education Portfolio Committee – July 2019

In July, EE ensured that the ANC withdraw its nomination of Zukisa Faku as chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education. EE’s objection to her nomination was due to her previous conviction on nine counts of fraud. While some believed her sentencing was under appeal, she had in fact started serving her three-year house arrest sentence while sitting in Parliament! None of Parliament’s vetting processes had picked this up until EE sounded the alarm bell.

We first called for the withdrawal of Zukisa Faku on 20 June – the day of the State of the Nation Address (SONA). After our persistent activism, and our letter of complaint to ANC Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina, which was endorsed by 18 civil society and education organisations, Faku was removed from the Basic Education Portfolio Committee. This was a major victory for EE members, learners across South Africa, and the integrity of legislative oversight. This victory confirms the importance and power of an active citizenry – a citizenry that pays attention to what happens in government and Parliament and mobilises when public officials flout the Constitutional principles on which our democracy is built. 

We are encouraged that the ANC responded appropriately to the public outcry, and will continue to work toward ensuring that the executive and the legislature fulfill their mandate with the required efficacy and integrity.

Sixth administration promises to prioritise school infrastructure in education sector plans – July 2019 

School infrastructure featured prominently as the sixth administration announced its priorities for the next five years. During a presentation on the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) Annual Performance Plan to Parliament in July, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga affirmed that the provision of decent toilets was one of six key priorities. At another Parliamentary meeting in October, the DBE said it was prioritising the provision of decent toilets and other basic services (IE. the implementation of the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure) in how it is allocating the infrastructure budget. In future, the DBE promised, it will also be requiring provinces to do the same. 

Provincial education department plans this year have also reflected a focus on school infrastructure. During its 2020/2025 strategic planning process, the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDoE) identified infrastructure as one of its five key strategic priorities. In Limpopo, the new MEC for education, Polly Boshielo, announced that her department would focus on eradicating plain pit latrines by the end of the 2019/20 financial year.  

R3.7million allocated to build toilets at Lutholi Junior Secondary School in the Eastern Cape – September 2019

The Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDoE) has allocated R3.7 million to upgrade the infrastructure at Lutholi Junior Secondary School (Lutholi JSS) after a learner fell into an unlawful exposed plain pit latrine in September.

The principal informed EE that a six-year-old learner had fallen into the plain pit latrine. The learner thankfully sustained only minor injuries. 

Confirming the need for EE’s close monitoring of implementation, construction at Lutholi JSS was set to commence at the end of September but had not started by early December. The ECDoE has promised EE that the construction work, which consists of building new toilets, erecting fencing, and fixing classrooms, will be completed by January 2020.

We will continue to work closely alongside learners and staff at Lutholi JSS to ensure that the ECDoE delivers on its promises. 

Western Cape government prioritises school and community safety – September 2019

In September, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde announced an extensive safety plan for the Western Cape province, with a specific focus on reducing violence in schools. As part of this plan, Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer has been mandated to increase school safety by upgrading school infrastructure and implementing programmes aimed at reducing violence on school grounds. A special “Safety Cabinet” will be chaired by the Premier to ensure greater collaboration between various departments working on safety challenges, including school safety.

Since 2015, EE members have picketed, marched, presented to Parliament and met with government officials to demand secure fences, security staff and alarm systems at schools, as well as proactive measures to address antisocial behaviour and cooperation between government departments to ensure safe schools. 

We are encouraged by this recognition of the importance of addressing school safety in particular and that some of EE’s demands are reflected in the Premier’s plan. In the new year, we will monitor the implementation of this plan and continue to push for the realisation of other key demands such as ensuring functional safety committees at all schools and sufficient psychosocial support to every learner.

 Implementing agents and contractors held accountable for poor performance – October 2019 

Significant strides have been made in securing greater accountability of implementing agents (IAs), who build schools on behalf of the national and provincial education departments. At a Parliamentary meeting meeting in October, the DBE announced that, for the first time it is introducing stricter measures to better hold IAs and building contractors accountable. 

In its presentation the DBE announced a review of the service level agreements and memorandums of understanding with IAs to impose penalties for non-compliance with progress delivery, deduct management fees for non-compliance or withdraw projects as a result of poor performance. 

Director General of the DBE, Mathanzima Mweli, said that for a long time the DBE was not doing anything to address the problem, but that it has now started doing so. “We have written to each IA that is not performing. The key question we are asking is why we should continue to do business with them if they are not performing,” explained Mweli. “We are not at the mercy of IAs… We have told them we are going to cut ties with them.”

Specifically, the DBE has excluded two IAs, Independent Development Trust (IDT) and Coega Development Corporation, from implementing any of the projects of the President’s Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) Initiative. These are both IAS around whose performance EE has done extensive activism. The ECDoE has also informed us that they will no longer be using Mvula Trust as an IA and have stopped allocating projects to IDT. EE has used quarterly meetings with the department to highlight challenges with school building projects overseen by both these IAs. 

Read the full minutes of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education 29 October 2019 meeting here.

EE secures a date for the release of the draft KZN Scholar Transport Policy for public comment – October 2019

On 23 October EE secured a major victory for accountability and the right to education, with an agreement secured in the Pietermaritzburg High Court that the KwaZulu-Natal Education Department (KZNDoE) must release the draft KZN Scholar Transport Policy for public comment by 30 January 2020 – and if it does not meet this deadline, the KZNDoE must explain why not to the court and to EE.  

Equalisers and post-school youth members of EE in KZN have tirelessly advocated for the provision of scholar transport since 2014, and we turned to the court as a last resort. In November 2017, we secured a court order by consent in which the KZNDoE undertook to, among other things, provide scholar transport to learners at 12 schools in Nquthu by April 2018.

In October this year we returned to court to demand that the KZNDoE stop wasting time in publicly releasing the provincial scholar transport policy, having failed to fulfill its promise to release the policy by 31 December 2018. EE, represented by the EELC, asked the court to provide clear time frames within which the KZN Scholar Transport Policy must be finalised. We were frustrated and angry that it was necessary to go to court for government to be responsive.  

Without a proper policy, the KZNDoE cannot properly decide who should qualify for scholar transport, how it should plan and budget properly, who the relevant role players are and what their roles should be, as well as what alternative modes of transport should be used. This is especially concerning considering that over 370 000 learners qualify for scholar transport in KZN.


For further information:

Leanne Jansen-Thomas (EE Head of Communications) leanne@equaleducation.org.za 079 4949 411