Schools reopening: 'State worked hard to ensure children won't be walking into Covid-19 raging fire'

Mmusi Maimane.
Mmusi Maimane.
Elizabeth Sejake
  • Minister Angie Motshekga's lawyer says the court should dismiss an application challenging the decision to send children back to school. 
  • He argues that, if schools remain closed, the gap between the rich and the poor will widen. 
  • Lawyer for Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa says the government's decision to ease lockdown restrictions is rational.

An application brought by One SA leader Mmusi Maimane, challenging the decision to send children back to school under Level 3 lockdown, should be dismissed, argued Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga's legal representative.

Maimane has dragged President Cyril Ramaphosa, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Motshekga to court to challenge their decision.

Arguing before a full bench in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, advocate Marius Oosthuizen said Motshekga and her team have been planning since March for the reopening of schools.

"She has been planning and preparing since mid-March, the department has been developing all these plans, all these preventative measures, they spent millions of rands... they have started procurement of PPEs [personal protective equipment]. Why? Because they don't want children to be walking into a raging fire," he said.

READ | 11 Gauteng teachers and a pupil test positive for Covid-19

"The minister said we are planning for the reopening of schools; she didn't say I am now ready, the schools are now ready. This was a process," he said.

Oosthuizen said it is in the interest of children, who are currently roaming the streets, that schools reopen.

"If we keep the schools closed, the gap between rich and poor, black and white, is going to be widen[ed].

Disruption

"Imagine for a moment the disruption of children's lives by having to leave school and sit at home the whole day," he said.

Meanwhile, a lawyer representing Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa defended the government's decision to ease the lockdown restrictions, saying the country has an economic crisis and the lockdown cannot be extended indefinitely.

Although South Africa is seeing a rise in infections due to the easing of the restrictions, the government's decision to move from Level 4 to 3, and easing the restrictions, is rational.

"Lockdown cannot be extended indefinitely," said advocate Kameshini Pillay. 

ALSO READ | Coronavirus: 18 Western Cape schools closed for cleaning after positive cases

"We have an economic crisis caused by the lockdown and the government can't close its eyes to the economic crisis," Pillay said, adding that measures introduced by the government were reasonable.

Earlier, advocate Dali Mpofu, on behalf of Maimane, argued that his client was not saying there should be a never-ending lockdown, but rather that children's rights should be paramount.

Mpofu said shifting from Level 4 to 3, and releasing about two million children to go back to school, while also opening the economy by allowing eight million workers to go back to work, would put many in danger.

READ | Court should not allow children to be sent into 'the lion's den', court hears

Mpofu added the "danger" of releasing children to go back to school would be multiplied because of their interaction, saying the idea that children could not infect others, should not be entertained.

'Lion's den'

Mpofu added the court was there to say, "you are not going to send children to the lion's den… or to send them to go and collect a virus".

But Oosthuizen, on behalf of Motshekga, said Mpofu's comments were irresponsible, adding they would create anxiety in society.

He also described Mpofu's argument as "flawed" and "misconceived".

READ | Children kept away from school won't be deregistered - Motshekga

Since the reopening of schools, more than 50 schools have been closed in Gauteng after positive cases of Covid-19 were reported, News24 reported.

The province's premier, David Makhura, and its coronavirus command council, previously said 54 schools had been affected by 56 cases reported in districts across the province.In the Western Cape, more than 60 schools that reopened had to be closed down to allow for decontamination, City Press reported on Sunday.

Judgment has been reserved.

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