Bela Bill faces tough opposition

Clint Leverton, the deputy chairman of Assegai Primary SGB.

Clint Leverton, the deputy chairman of Assegai Primary SGB.

Published Feb 14, 2024


Durban — More submissions were made by various organisations and concerned citizens at the public hearings on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill held in Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) on Tuesday.

The purpose of the Bill is to bring laws dealing with schools in line with important developments in the law, related to the right to basic education, that have taken place over the last decade, stated Sesethu August, spokesperson for Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC).

The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) has resolved to extend the public hearings on the Bela Bill for two weeks until February 29. The deadline was January 31.

August said that EELC welcomed the “belated” update to education law.

“However, EELC remains concerned that the Bill unjustly criminalises parents. We also believe that urgent improvements are needed regarding the amendments relating to compulsory Grade R and school discipline.”

One of the concerns was the criminalisation of parents/caregivers who prevent their children from attending school. The Bill retains the extended jail time — from six to 12 months — for anyone, including caregivers, who prevents a child from attending school without a good reason.

“The Portfolio Committee paid such little attention to this provision because criminalising parents and caregivers does not solve the underlying reasons why children sometimes do not go to school.

“This clause also fails to recognise the potential harm to children should their primary caregiver be imprisoned,” August said.

“The EELC states that the Bill requests that young children must stop attending Grade R classes at ECD centres.

“Must kids instead be accommodated in already overcrowded schools, with criminal sanctions attached if parents intentionally fail to comply. We think a phased approach to the introduction of compulsory Grade R is vital,” August said.

Clint Leverton, the Deputy chairman of Assegai Primary SGB, south of Durban said that while the ambit of this bill seeks to redress inconsistencies in the education sector, the vein of the bill takes the country back a few decades in that a veiled authoritarian policy under the guise of better governance is being slipped in.

Leverton said the enactment of the bill surely leaves big question marks on the democracy we claim to be. Leverton said the best form of state capture starts with institutions of learning and teaching being captured by the state, in this way, the masses of future and upcoming generations what is learnt and how it is taught is manipulated and controlled by the state.

Leverton said there are several other clauses in this bill which are “draconian in nature” and seek to replace parental responsibilities with statutes and laws which will be controlled and in essence subjugate parental rights making them subject to educational practices, which expose rather than protect the pupil.

“As parents, we surely have a say in the educational content that our children are exposed to, especially with regards to the ages at which this exposure takes place. Comprehensive Sex Education has no place on any education curriculum,” he said.

Leverton said Grade R being made compulsory is not a viable option because the majority of public schools do not have the necessary infrastructure or capacity for this to be rolled out.

“The DOE along with Public Works cannot even repair and fix current infrastructure, so how on earth are they going to build the necessary additional classrooms to accommodate these young learners?” Leverton said.

Leverton felt that the HOD and the minister were being given sweeping powers that would usurp SGBs’ powers and in essence, make them “puppets”.

“We are educating children to go out into the world and make it a better place through actions and interactions with others. We are not limiting the child to Africa, but we are saying in the way we educate, that we prepare them for the world.

Political parties also shared their opinions.

Dr Imran Keeka, MPL - Democratic Alliance KZN spokesperson on Education said the DA remains vehemently opposed to the Bill in its current form because of language policies; Admission policies; Centralisation of power, Mandatory Grade R and regulation of the home schooling sector.

“We look to challenge this Bill to the Constitutional Court if necessary. The DA urges KZN’s citizens to attend the upcoming hearings and to oppose this flawed piece of legislation intended to further capture our education sector,” Keeka said.

Angela Sobey, ActionSA Member of the Senate, said they believe that the Bill is a flawed legislative attempt to camouflage the structural deficiencies of South Africa’s education system resulting from decades of systemic mismanagement.

ActionSA also opposes the blanket lifting of the ban on the sale of alcohol at schools proposed in the Bill. Sobey said school inspectors should be reintroduced who can independently ensure that quality teaching takes place in schools across South Africa.

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