The decision by the department of basic education not to publish the 2021 matric results on media platforms was “ill-informed” and “irrational”.
This is according to the affidavit of a 2021 matric pupil, Anle Spies, in an application to the Pretoria High Court.
She wanted the court to rule that the results be published on newspapers and other digital platforms as was the practice in previous years.
In her application, Spies was joined by advocacy group AfriForum and Maroela Media, an online media platform.
Last week, the department announced that in keeping with the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia), which came into effect in July 2020, it would no longer publish matric results in newspapers and on digital platforms, and that pupils would have to go to their respective schools to access their results.
On Tuesday morning, Judge Anthony Millar ruled that the matric results be published in newspapers and other platforms.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will announce the results on Thursday and pupils will then be able to fetch their result statements at schools on Friday.
In her affidavit, Spies – who was a matric pupil at Gereformeerde Gekombineerde Skool Dirk Postma in Pretoria but has since relocated to Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape, where she will be based until she moves to Bloemfontein to study agriculture at the University of the Free State – said there would only be a week from the date of the matric results announcement to the day she has to be in Bloemfontein for university orientation and therefore it is important for her to know her results as soon as possible.
She said she was “more than 1 000km away from the school that I attended” and was not the only one who had relocated since completing matric.
Therefore Spies hoped to access her results in a newspaper or an online media platform.
In any case, she said, the newspapers and digital platforms do not disclose the identity of a pupil and only publish their examination number, which is known only to the school and the pupil.
“…No one knows my examination number unless I disclose my number to a third party at my own choice. Apart from myself, only my school knows what my examination number is. Not even my parents know what my examination number is unless I give it [to] them, which I intend doing if they are interested in checking my examination results in a newspaper,” she said.
In 2014, the department announced that it would no longer publish the names of pupils, only their examination numbers. In her application Spies had said it was not true, as per the department's communication, that the Act came into effect in 2021 and that it in fact it came into effect in July 2020.
She said all other provisions of the Act, which include the prohibition of unlawful collection, retention, dissemination, and use of personal information had been in force since 2020 already. Spies said:
“It follows that on the interpretation of the first [Motshekga] and other respondents, the first respondent acted in breach of the act at the beginning of 2021 when it published the results. I hasten to point out that there was no objection or dissatisfaction or outcry of any nature about the publication of the results in newspapers and online.”
In court, AfriForum counsel Quintus Pelser said if a pupil, for one reason or the other, could not get to school to access their results they would have to give their examination number to a person who would collect for them.
The department also said last week that pupils could access their results on its website.
But Judge Millar said while that was an option, it was not a viable one in a country such as South Africa.
“In our country, not everyone has access to those resources, particularly those from more modest backgrounds, and a single newspaper can be shared among many people in order to check the results,” he said.
In a statement last week, following the decision by the department, the SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) said the decision came as a surprise as media houses were not consulted.
“The lack of consultation by the department is not only unfortunate, but also has negative financial implications for media companies that had already, for instance, procured additional printing paper and created the architecture for data sets to be able to publish the results in print and digital form,” reads the statement.
In an affidavit, Susan Lombaard, a journalist and chief executive of Maroella Media, echoed the Sanef sentiment. She said the “devastating consequences” also extended to universities, bursary funds and institutions of financial support that had planned to advertise on media platforms for the publication of the matric results.
“They are now not only deprived from an opportunity to advertise their services to a focused market, but media institutions are also deprived of the opportunity to earn income from advertising campaigns. This institution would have normally initiated same on [its] platforms.” Lombaard said:
Millar ruled that the results must be published as was the practice in previous years and that the publication must not reflect the names and surnames of learners.
In a statement on Tuesday, following the judgment, the department said it welcomed the ruling.
“The department will abide by the ruling. This means that the department will make available the results to stakeholders who requested access,” it said in a statement.