Social Development Minister welcomes court judgment on opening of private preschools, centres

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu.
Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu.
Picture: GCIS
  • Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu has said although the court ruled private early childhood development centres may reopen, the department still had a responsibility to ensure they were safe.
  • Zulu said work had already been under way and directions drafted for the reopening of centres.
  • According to the Department of Social Development, the centres are not permitted to operate under Level 3 of the lockdown.

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu has said Monday's High Court judgment on private pre-schools and early childhood development centres (ECDCs) comes at a time her department is preparing to gazette a framework of directions.

Zulu was speaking on Bongani Bingwa's Breakfast show on Radio 702 on Tuesday morning, reacting to the ruling by the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria that private pre-schools and ECDCs may reopen with immediate effect.

Judge Hans Fabricius declared the department's decision that private nursery schools should remain closed under lockdown Level 3 unlawful and unconstitutional.

But Zulu said although the centres were privately owned and had the capacity and money to reopen, the responsibility to ensure they were safe and compliant was still the responsibility of the department.

She said the department had to go through vital processes and needed to ensure the right measures were developed to safeguard children and employees at the centres before legislating their return.

ALSO READ | Only a small percentage of teachers and pupils have contracted Covid-19 - Motshekga

"The judge had to do what the judge has to do. My responsibility is now to look into the judgment. Firstly, I welcome the judgment quite frankly because when all is said and done, we are all dealing with a very difficult situation. You do it, you are damned, you don't do it, you are damned.

"I am going through the judgment, it's 54 pages, [and] I am going through it just to make sure I look at what actually didn't we do right, including the issue of the filing that the judge is talking about. I am going to go through it and I am going to comply," the minister told the radio station.

Zulu said the notion that her department had not been doing anything in planning a way forward for the sector was far from the truth. She added the fact that there was already a draft of directions that would soon be gazetted showed work had been done.

She said the department had already held consultations with ECDC practitioners and developed a framework of what needed to be done.

Forms which centres need to fill in and submit to the department have also been set out, according to the minister. 

Zulu said:

These are private owned ECDs. By the way, on top of all that, in the consultations with the ECD practitioners, we already knew that there are already too many ECDs which are not registered. When something goes wrong at unregistered ECDs, when something goes wrong at the ECDs which are even private, the ball is in our court to deal with that.

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Zulu's department reiterated that the reopening of privately-owned centres meant they still had to adhere to safety measures. She said those not compliant with the minimum Covid-19 health, safety and social distancing measures, may not reopen until all these measures were in place.

"It should be noted that the judgment does not apply to other forms of early childhood development programmes such as child minders, playgroups, toy libraries, among others, or any partial care facility, other than a partial care facility that provides an early childhood development programme (ECD centres) as contemplated in section 93(5)(a) of the Children's Act 38 of 2005," the department said.

All ECDCs operating under the Children's Act have been urged to follow all processes put in place to ensure they were compliant.

The department added Zulu would issue directions to be published in the Government Gazette as guidance for the reopening of the centres, including those in public schools.

News24 reported last Thursday that children at ECDCs would not be going back to school along with the grades which returned on Monday. This came after Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga removed an aspect in the directions that relates to ECDCs, removing the definition of pre-Grade R.

According to the education department, the social development department had the responsibility to issue guidelines in that regard.

Grade R, 6 and 11 pupils joined their peers in grades 7 and 12 on Monday after the department made a U-turn following a Council of Education Ministers' meeting on Thursday.

Grades 1, 2, 3, 6 and 10 were also expected to return but after five reports, which focused on key areas in the sector amid Covid-19, it was decided they shouldn't.

- Compiled by Sesona Ngqakamba

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