Helen Zille still backing Angie Motshekga despite criticism

2013-08-05 17:12

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South African politics can be a rough space, especially when insults fly and labels stick, DA leader Helen Zille has said.

"The remedy is to swallow a spoonful of cement, reinforce your backbone, and stand up for policies that turn out to be right in the long run," she said today in her newsletter, SA Today.

"That is why I am backing Angie Motshekga in this debate."

Zille was reacting to criticism about her support for the work Motshekga had done as basic education minister.

Last month, Zille told a Democratic Alliance Young Professionals forum she was an "unlikely defender" of Motshekga, because under Motshekga the real problems leading to poor education results in South Africa were diagnosed.

A recent National Education Evaluation and Development Unit report commissioned by Motshekga found poor discipline was the cause of the failure of pupils.

Zille said no other minister before Motshekga was willing to provide the space for such a report to be produced. The minister also had little control over what happened in the department.

In her newsletter, Zille said she supported Motshekga's critique of the norms and standards campaign for school infrastructure, based on a 2008 draft published by her predecessor Naledi Pandor.

"While I strongly support the drive for decent school infrastructure, this campaign, in my view, is misdirected in substance, style and strategy.

"Instead of engaging my arguments, commentators and activists concocted a range of conspiracy theories and concluded that my 'primary agenda is not education but driving a wedge between the ANC and the trade unions'."

She said this was a tactic that involved igniting suspicion about people's motives so that their arguments were not taken seriously.

It was this approach which had damaged education for nearly 20 years.

Zille said she agreed with Motshekga that Pandor's norms and standards approach ran the risk of pouring billions of rands into interventions that would not necessarily advance improving education outcomes.

There was more of a risk of diverting resources away from strategies designed at achieving these outcomes.

While a minimum infrastructure platform was needed to achieve quality education, it made more sense to establish guidelines than impose rigid norms and standards.

"This is what minister Motshekga is trying to do, in an attempt to align infrastructure improvement with the primary goal of achieving better education outcomes," said Zille.

"The South African Schools Act does not oblige her to impose norms and standards for infrastructure. It says that she 'may' do so, not that she 'must'."

Zille said she could not understand why Motshekga allowed herself to be "frog-marched" into signing a commitment to publish infrastructure norms and standards by mid-2013.

"I presume that she and her advisers were worried about being painted as opponents of infrastructure improvement. But, in reality, she only succeeded in painting herself into a corner," she said.

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