Minister wants to save academic year above saving lives - Maimane tells Concourt

  • Poor infrastructure, school overcrowding, staff shortages, sanitation and insufficient public transport are some of the reasons why schools must remain close - Mmusi Maimane. 
  • He said the unconsidered and rushed reopening of schools poses a risk to life.
  • The crux of his argument is: Much as the academic year must be saved, if possible, it is more important to save lives. 

"Rome is burning and the state parties ought not to be allowed to fiddle unsupervised [and] while only accounting to themselves."

This is what former DA leader and founder of the One South Africa (OSA) movement Mmusi Maimane told the Constitutional Court this week in court papers, arguing against the reopening of schools. 

In an urgent application to the apex court, Maimane's OSA is challenging the government's decision to reopen schools. He highlighted poor infrastructure, school overcrowding, staff shortages, sanitation and public transport as the motivation behind his application.

Maimane told the court that Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga did not give a plan as to how these schools would be capacitated to open. He also argued that the minister did not inform the country how other learners, who are schooling under trees, tents and dilapidated buildings, will be catered for.

"Overcrowding is a norm in schools located in townships and villages. The minister did not inform us how those schools will be made ready. As a result of poor infrastructure, the department will not be able to protect the equipment that will be delivered to schools for combating Covid-19.

"The logistical challenges of delivering masks, which must be changed daily, far exceed the efficient distribution of textbooks once a year, which the government has historically failed to achieve," he wrote in the 40-page affidavit.

Motshekga postponed the phased reopening of schools from June 1 to June 8 after consultation with stakeholders.

Unions, parents and student governing bodies have raised concerns over the readiness of schools to reopen.

Reports have also emerged that some schools have not received personal protective equipment.

"The minister’s statement is evidence that the reopening of schools is not primarily targeted at combating Covid-19 but at saving the academic year at any human cost or price. Our approach is that, much as the academic year must be saved, if possible, it is more important to save lives - even, if need be, at the expense of the academic year."

Challenging the government's obligation to human life, Maimane lambasted the state for failing in its "constitutional" and "legal" duty to consult with organisations to ensure meaningful public participation. 

He added that an unconsidered and rushed reopening of schools poses a risk to life, especially when it is scheduled to coincide with the general reopening of the economy - from Level 4 to Level 3. 

"The minister’s statement is evidence that the reopening of schools is not primarily targeted at combating Covid-19 but at saving the academic year at any human cost or price. Our approach is that, much as the academic year must be saved, if possible, it is more important to save lives - even, if need be, at the expense of the academic year."

It is unclear when the state is expected to respond to Maimane's application.

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