Ministers’ private schools mystery

2012-09-01 18:32

Spin doctors step in after officials asked where their kids learn

“Get lost!” That’s the overwhelming response from South Africa’s top elected leaders when asked if their children go to state or private schools.

Media24 Investigations sent questions to President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, the 33 national Cabinet ministers, their deputies, 9 education MECs and 400 members of Parliament asking them if they sent their children to private or public schools.

The only Cabinet minister who responded was embattled Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who revealed that her child went to a private school.

Cosatu said it was “unfortunate” that Cabinet ministers would not reveal these details.

“The only conclusion I can make is that their kids are in private schools,” said labour federation Cosatu’s spokesperson Patrick Craven. “It shows they don’t have much faith in their public institutions. Our public schools should be of such a high standard that ministers would want their children to go there.”

Our questions were prompted by the national debate on the ­quality of public education.

Knowing where South Africa’s elected political leaders educated their children indicates their confidence in the system for which they oversee policy and budgets, and which is currently responsible for educating 12.2 million children.

But government’s spin doctors stepped in to stop ministers from replying to our questions.

The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) advised ministers and deputy ministers not to respond.

“It is not a matter of public interest,” said the GCIS’ acting chief executive, Phumla Williams, when asked why they had advised ministers against responding.

Motshekga said her only son was in a private school, but later clarified this, saying he is a second-year student at the University of Johannesburg.

Motshekga has been basic education minister since 2009. Before that, she was the MEC for education in Gauteng.

Fourteen ministers formally refused to provide details of their children’s schooling after the GCIS’ advice, and the rest didn’t respond.

They were given more than three weeks to address our questions.

Doron Isaacs, the coordinator of advocacy group Equal Education, said political leaders were “hypocrites” for defending a system they themselves seemed to avoid.

He called on political leaders to choose public schools for their children.

“I think if minister Motshekga was trusted to improve the quality of education in public schools, it would matter less that her children are in private schools.

“Unfortunately, the public no longer trusts her. On textbooks and school infrastructure standards, she has failed.

“She has seemed aloof and lacking in empathy. Therefore, that her children are not in the public schooling system will anger many,” he said.

South African Democratic Teachers’ Union general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said that those who served the public should use public services.

The union did not believe in private education.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said he had discussed the questionnaire with his legal team and said that it was his “constitutional right” not to divulge any information.

Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said he didn’t understand why the information should be public.

Zuma didn’t respond and Motlanthe refused to participate.

Williams said government had “applied its mind” to the matter, and that the matter doesn’t fall within the “purview” of the state because the state doesn’t pay the school fees of ministers’ and deputy ministers’ children.

Craven said that although public office bearers had a right to privacy, the public had a right to know how they regarded public institutions like schools and hospitals.

Derek Luyt, the media and advocacy head at the Public Service Accountability Monitor, said it was reasonable to want to know where elected political officers sent their children to school.

But he cautioned that if politicians sent their children to private schools, this did not mean it was a blanket vote of no confidence in public schools.

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