Huge victory for education activists

2012-11-17 16:42

Minister Motshekga makes out of court settlement with advocacy group

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has committed to finally setting deadlines for basic norms and standards for infrastructure in South Africa’s 24 000 public schools.

Her capitulation is being celebrated by advocacy group Equal Education, which took Motshekga and her department to the Eastern Cape High Court to force the introduction of basic norms and standards.

The application was due to be heard in two days’ time but on Friday, Motshekga, Deputy Minister Enver Surty and director-general Bobby Soobrayan called Equal Education’s leaders to a meeting in Pretoria.

Here, City Press has learned, Motshekga admitted her department could not defend the application.

In a settlement, a copy of which City Press has seen and which will now be made an order of the court, Motshekga has committed to setting deadlines for provinces to provide infrastructure such as running water, electricity, laboratories, halls and computer rooms at all schools.

This means it will become unlawful for provincial departments not to provide this infrastructure by the deadlines.

Motshekga has also undertaken to gazette deadlines and minimum norms and standards by January 15 next year for public comment and to enact the entire policy by March 31.

She also agreed to institute a construction plan, including fencing and toilets, for the dilapidated Mwezeni Senior Primary School in Mthata within three months.

Mwezeni is a mud school which Equal Education used as an example of the state’s failure to provide basic infrastructure.

Doron Isaacs, Equal Education deputy general secretary, who attended the meeting, said Motshekga admitted that she could not have “morally defended” the application because some children were still studying in mud schools.

The settlement is an about-turn for Motshekga, who reneged on her promise to publish the policy from a 2008 document titled the National Policy for an Equitable Provision of an Enabling School Physical Teaching and Learning Environment, after she had publicly promised to do so on April 1 2011.

Isaacs said the settlement was a major victory.

“We wanted (Motshekga) to exercise her responsibility. If they’ve learned anything from our campaign it is that we will move forward and they can expect us to exercise close scrutiny of her department to ensure she lives up to the promises, and sets serious standards that will become powerful tools to change our education,” said Isaacs.

The organisation’s chairperson, Yoliswa Dwane, said a norms and standards policy would hold provincial government departments accountable to communities where school infrastructure was lagging behind or non-existent.

“Schools have huge capacity and infrastructure problems but if there’s a national plan, provincial departments will know what is expected of them and the norms and standards deadline will make a difference,” said Dwane.

It is likely Motshekga’s hand was forced when Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and all nine provincial education MECs indicated in court papers they would not oppose Equal Education’s legal bid and will abide by any court order.

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