- Schools will no longer be reopening on 27 January for pupils, but on 15 February instead.
- The basic education department says it is monitoring the situation and is working closely with the health department.
- All schools, including independent ones, are expected to adhere to the new dates.
The reopening of schools in South Africa has been delayed for two weeks due to the steep increase of Covid-19 infections.
Schools were initially expected to open on 25 January for teachers and 27 January for pupils.
Why the delay?
But, following consultations with education stakeholders, including teacher unions, school governing bodies and independent schools' associations, the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), Cabinet and the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) decided to delay the reopening, especially since the new variant of the virus in South Africa was said to affect young people.
Making the announcement during a media briefing in Pretoria on Friday, Basic Education Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule said the decision was taken to give relief to the health system, which is already not coping due to the high number of Covid-19 cases.
Minister Angie Motshekga was not present at the briefing because she is on "sick leave", according to her deputy.
Early Childhood Development Centres were also expected to delay their reopening, the department said.
Mhaule said the department would also study the new variant, under the guidance of the health department.
She emphasised that the decision for the delay was not to punish anyone or any school, but to save lives.
Motshekga's advisor, Mzwandile Matthews, said independent schools' associations, which were part of the consultations, agreed to persuade members that already opened to follow the reopening protocol.
"Those schools (independent), unfortunately we can't direct them. We are expecting that they will consider closing and reopen as stated by the deputy minister," Matthews said.
How will the reopening be carried out?
Mhaule said dates for the reopening for private schools would vary, depending on the calendar they followed.
She said school management teams (SMTs) would continue to report for duty on 25 January, followed by teachers on 1 February and pupils on 15 February. SMTs would prepare for teachers' return and teachers would prepare for the return of pupils, she added.
Schools would also use the delay to finalise outstanding matters, including admissions, especially for pupils who were yet to be placed, the deputy minister said.
The department said it would work with provinces to determine the extent of the impact of the virus on them and the status of staff, and added that it would also conduct meetings to assess their state of readiness.
"What is required now is absolute vigilance, alertness and most of all, strict adherence to the health, safety, and social distancing measures that have been put in place," Mhaule said.
The deputy minister was unable to say whether a further delay was likely because that would depend on the circumstances on the ground. The department will only open if the virus can be managed and stabilised.