On Monday 21 May, after the release of the media statement by Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, Equal Education (EE) received a letter from her office requesting that EE “not engage with any learners in the Western Cape” until a meeting between EE and her office is held.

EE is committed to ensuring a safe environment within which its staff, volunteers and members can engage. We welcome any opportunity to fully engage with MEC Schäfer on all of the matters raised in her letter, and will propose to her that we meet urgently.

However, we must be clear that the MEC Schäfer’s current request, that we not engage learners in the Western Cape, does not only reflect a misunderstanding of the nature of EE’s work, but is also overly broad and unjustified.

MEC Schäfer’s request is unclear

MEC Schäfer’s letter requests a very broad undertaking from EE. The right of freedom of association of EE’s membership in the Western Cape will be unreasonably and unjustifiably curtailed by any such blanket restriction on EE.

EE is a social movement, comprised of members and of staff. While it is not clear, we assume that MEC Schäfer’s request is that EE staff members do not engage learners in the Western Cape. The suggestion that EE’s learner members – Equalisers – could not engage each other is unreasonable and impractical, and we trust that this is not the intention of MEC Schäfer. We also trust that MEC Schäfer understands that she is not empowered to prevent learners engaging with any association or organisation after hours and outside of school premises. To request as much is unconstitutional.

We therefore understand her request to be for an undertaking that EE’s staff members will not engage learners in the Western Cape in person during school hours and on school premises. In this regard, EE’s staff/volunteer engagement with learners in the Western Cape does not primarily take place within school premises and during school hours.

MEC Schäfer’s request unjustified

The facts of recent developments do not sustain any basis for the broad request made by MEC Schäfer. She did not attempt to ascertain any facts about the sexual harassment allegations levelled against three men at EE – Tshepo Motsepe, Luyolo Mazwembe and Doron Isaacs –  before publishing her media statement. If she had done so, we would have been able to clarify that the allegations that have been put before us do not relate to learners. In response to the question posed in her media statement, about the interactions that these three men have had with girl learners in the Western Cape this year, we would have been able to directly tell her that none of the men accused had regular, direct interaction with individual Western Cape school learners.

EE takes sexual harassment very seriously. EE has clear staff and volunteer policies and procedures that prohibit sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace and has taken proactive steps to ensure that staff and members are aware of the severity of such conduct through direct training. Of particular concern is guarding against any risks to learners. Our policies prohibit relationships between staff or volunteers and learners, and clearly state that this offence is a first offence dismissal. Any staff member and volunteer- facilitator who interacts with school learners goes through a rigorous training process, which clarifies what appropriate and inappropriate behaviour is.

EE has acted swiftly and decisively to deal with every allegation of sexual harassment that has been put before us. In respect of Tshepo Motsepe and Luyolo Mazwembe, EE took immediate steps in responding to allegations which first emerged in the week of 16 April 2018. Notwithstanding Tshepo Motsepe’s resignation, EE immediately responded to institute a full independent inquiry into the allegations against him. Mazwembe has also resigned, but EE is nonetheless conducting a disciplinary hearing to ensure full accountability. In relation to Isaacs, new allegations emerged from media reports. EE’s senior management team immediately lodged a formal complaint with EE’s National Council, requesting an urgent and full investigation into any such allegations, and that complaint is now under urgent consideration.

We are committed to confronting this difficult moment in our movement’s history, with honesty and with integrity. We care deeply about our core mission – the struggle for access to quality education for all – and we are determined to deal with these issues decisively.

We recognise the seriousness of recent developments at EE. We have acted swiftly to respond to all allegations and have committed publicly to continue doing so. One hopes that MEC Schäfer has the best interest of learners in mind despite the premature and unreasonable nature of her requests. While we are available to discuss these matters directly with MEC Schäfer, we reject the political opportunism of her media statement and will not cease our important work in the Western Cape.

For further comment:

Noncedo Madudube (Head of EE Western Cape):

Leanne Jansen-Thomas (Interim National Coordinator):