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

Grade 12 pupils at Rosendaal Senior Secondary in Delft, Cape Town.
Grade 12 pupils at Rosendaal Senior Secondary in Delft, Cape Town.
Roger Sedres, Gallo Images via Getty Images
  • The decision to reopen schools amid the increasing spread of the coronavirus has become political fodder.
  • While some political parties have called the plan murderous, even ANC formations have criticised Education Minister Angie Motshekga's plan.
  • Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said politicians want the advantage of saying "I told you so" to government.

The decision to reopen schools in a phased way by the end of August amid the coronavirus peak in the country has become a political football.

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While the government is hell-bent on saving the school year, political parties, even bodies of the ANC, have warned of the dangers.

The debate on reopening schools has been as much politically polarising as it is socially.

The EFF called the plan murderous while the ANC welcomed the plan. The DA has treaded with caution.

Researchers and academics are torn between those calling for the scrapping of the school year and those who have downplayed the risk of infection of Covid-19 among children.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga had insisted the spike in infections could not be attributed to schools and maintained schools have done their best to ensure hygiene and social distancing.

READ MORE| Back to school: Here is when the other grades will return

In recent days, formations of the ANC have come out to criticise Motshekga's plan to reopen schools.

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said it was a given that the reopening of schools would become a political football because it affects a range of issues.

"Political parties are counting on Covid-19 getting worse so that they can say 'I told you so,'" he said.

Political football

Fikeni said the reopening of schools would mean the movement of seven million people, which is the "biggest logistical movement" amid the Covid-19 pandemic. "It has become a political football because it effects many people, and it is an issue of great concern," he said.

The ANC Women's League (ANCWL), which was once led by Motshekga, said government could not gamble with the lives of children.

A group of ex-combatants who fall under the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) also joined the chorus, saying they were deeply concerned with the phased reopening of schools.

Fikeni said the ANC is pluralised as it has become factionalised, explaining that when people talk of the ANC they have to specify which ANC.

READ | All private preschools may reopen immediately, court rules

"It is obvious they will use the pandemic for proxy fighting."

From the onset, the EFF and its leader Julius Malema had been widely opposed to schools reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.

That party labelled it "murderous".

"The decision to reopen schools for more grades essentially ends the lockdown because the Department of Basic Education wants to engage in a dangerous experiment by putting as many as six million learners at risk of contracting Covid-19. It is no secret that as many as 3 800 schools mostly in rural areas still rely on pit latrines for sanitation and over 3 500 schools are without adequate access to water," the EFF said in a statement this week.

The newly formed One SA movement by former DA leader Mmusi Maimane seemed almost entirely dedicated to having schools shut amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

He tried to get the courts to intervene but with little luck. They have resorted to call for a national stay away on Friday.

"Minister Motshekga must reverse her decision to reopen schools. It is a rushed and ill-advised decision, unnecessarily putting lives at risk," Maimane said.

He said schools must remain closed until after the peak infection period.

Fikeni said political parties wanted to remain relevant by jumping onto an issue of great concern to everyone.

"Maimane is trying to find something that will keep him relevant because in politics you need to be relevant. He identified something that is emotionally charged that touches every single family," Fikeni said.


The fear among all political formations, even those affiliated to the ANC, has been schools becoming conduits for the spread of the virus.

Already, figures show schools have confirmed cases of coronavirus affecting both teachers and pupils.

READ | Eastern Cape postpones return of Grades R, 6 and 11 as Covid-19 cases rise

"The IFP believes that the phased-in approach to the reopening of schools was ill-informed and contributed to the surge in the number of positive cases… We demand careful consideration of all alternatives to ensure the well-being of our children, teachers, and their families," the IFP said.

The DA said while it supports the education department's decision to reopen schools as the country grapples with Covid-19, it will be closely monitoring the implementation of plans to ensure they are ready, safe and clean.

All political parties seem to agree that infrastructure at public schools do not allow for hygienic environments or social distancing required to combat the spread of the virus.

"We are all aware of the infrastructure challenges in many schools across the country and conditions in such schools have been hazardous and posing health risks to learners long before corona emerged in our country. Therefore, as a country we cannot gamble with the lives of children, more especially the poor learners who are subjected to study in potentially unhygienic conditions," the ANCWL said.

The MKMVA said online teaching was the best option.

"We call on government to make every further possible effort to ensure that the largest possible number of learners can utilise online education," the group said.

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