Maimane determined to head to court, as school closure bid receives over 192 000 signatures

One SA Movement leader and former DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
One SA Movement leader and former DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
Jan Gerber, News24
  • One South Africa Movement leader Mmusi Maimane said facts showed there was a rise in Covid-19 cases in schools, and it made the decision to reopen them irrational.
  • Maimane said he was unfazed by criticism that he was politicking with his call for schools to be closed.
  • He maintained that online learning should be used while schools remained closed amid the peak in infections.

As the Department of Basic Education (DBE) threatens to go to court to block disruptions at schools, One South Africa Movement (OSAM) leader Mmusi Maimane has said they are also willing to head to the highest court in a bid to halt teaching in classrooms amid the Covid-19 pandemic peak.

The former DA leader spoke to News24 on Tuesday morning, and said being criticised and accused of politicking was nothing new to him.

Maimane said all he was calling for was for schools to close during the peak wave, and for blended online learning for every pupil, especially those in matric.

READ | The politics of school reopening: Opposition parties and ANC formations join ranks

"If we need to do that [take the matter to the highest court], then we must. We took the matter to court and now we have to take the next level as far as legal action is concerned.

"All I am asking is for the government to simply say: 'Let's adjust this year's curriculum, let's delay matric exams, let us give matriculants devices so that they can study online and have blended learning,' because when we have all of those things in place, we can then truly ensure that no one is left behind and we can fight the virus," Maimane said.

In his latest bid, Maimane has created a petition calling for government not to "gamble" with children's lives. The petition, which calls on Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to reconsider the decision to reopen schools, had received more than 192 000 signatures of its 200 000 target by 10:00 on Tuesday.

Maimane told News24 the reopening of schools while infections were peaking was "irrational". He said the department's argument that pupils were not at risk was at odds with the facts, considering the number of cases that have been recorded among teachers and pupils since schools reopened on 8 June.   

He said children from poorer backgrounds were mostly affected, while it was not the case for those attending organised suburban schools.

ALSO READ | Back to school: Here is the return date for every grade

"Poor kids rely on taxis to get to school. Now, the taxis are being loaded at a 100%. The same Department of Basic Education came to court to argue that actually children were not really carriers of the virus. Now it is a strange thing when you realise there are now children who are dying and teachers being infected by Covid-19.

"On the basis of fact alone, the decision that the Department of Basic Education is putting [to keep schools open], is irrational. That's why you cannot sustain the argument. The reason we have taken the protest and they [the department] have threatened us with court action is because they know their decisions are irrational," Maimane said.

Last Friday, OSAM led demonstrations outside schools and the DBE head office in Pretoria under the campaign hashtag SchoolStayAway. A memorandum of demands was handed over to the department.

Reacting to the disruptions, the department said it was regrettable that leaders chose schools as theatres of "political posturing and muscle flashing" while it was working toward ensuring teaching and learning was taking place in safe environments.

The department said it was not ruling out going to court to seek protection from those "hell-bent on obstructing schooling".

Last week, teacher unions distanced themselves from the stay away, saying while they were acknowledging there were issues still facing schools amid the pandemic, they do not support disruptions by political movements trying to gain a "foothold", News24 reported.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union was holding a special meeting on Tuesday to develop a response to the surge in infections. The response was expected to be announced during a media briefing at 13:00. 

Meanwhile, the Educators Union of South Africa (EUSA) has called for all teachers, pupils and parents to picket outside schools every morning from Tuesday. 

This, as the union said President Cyril Ramaphosa, during his address to the nation on Sunday, failed to bring "calm and sanity" to the nation, more especially teachers and pupils.

"The president showed how much teachers, learners and support staff in schools are disregarded by his government. The facts are glaring at him but he chose to deliberately ignore for reasons known to him and his Cabinet.

"This (picket) call won't get anyone into trouble and definitely won't result in a salary deduction. It is safe and very strong to get the attention of the president to close schools immediately. Together we stand victorious but divided we remain manipulated and defeated," EUSA's national spokesperson Kabelo Mahlobogwane said in a statement.

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