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‘An attack on Afrikaans’: Legal showdown looms after National Assembly passes controversial Bela Bill

Protests were held outside the National Assembly on Thursday, where the controversial Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill - also known as the Bela Bill was passed. Picture: Supplied

Protests were held outside the National Assembly on Thursday, where the controversial Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill - also known as the Bela Bill was passed. Picture: Supplied

Published Oct 26, 2023


The National Assembly passed the controversial Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill - also known as the Bela Bill - on Thursday setting up a legal showdown with the Democratic Alliance and AfriForum who have vowed to fight it all the way to the Constitutional Court.

Central to the DA and AfriForum’s gripe is that the Bill will require a school governing body to submit the language policy of a public school and any amendment thereof to the head of department for approval.

According to the Bill, the language policy must also take into consideration the “language needs of the broader community” - which the DA and AfriForum say is an attack on Afrikaans-medium schools.

The bill was passed on Thursday with 223 votes to 83 amid protests outside by the Cape Forum, AfriForum, Solidarity, the FF Plus, DA, and ACDP.

The DA, AfriForum, and Cape Forum have all indicated that they would challenge the bill in court.

Addressing the National Assembly,DA MP Baxolile Nodada said the Bela Bill will impose what many struggled so hard to overthrow: – centralisation of power by the State and “a Bantu education-style policy that imposes a language of instruction on schools”.

“The DA completely rejects the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill in its current form,” he said.

“While we support educational reform, we will not support a bill that disempowers schools, parents, and communities and fails to address a single one of the systemic challenges that impede quality education, like overcrowding, poor literacy and numeracy, dropouts, terrible school infrastructure, poor quality teaching, and a lack of resources,” he said.

Nodada added: “The bill will disempower SGBs from determining admission and language policies. Though the ANC might deny it, schools with a single language of learning will be targeted, despite the fact that the PIRLS revealed that learners who completed the test in their mother tongue have better comprehension”.

Alana Bailey, AfriForum’s head of Cultural Affairs, said the National Council of Provinces and the President have yet to decide on the bill.

Only once they have approved it can it be implemented, she said.

“We realise that the ANC wants to implement this at all costs, and unfortunately it will be at the cost of the youth of the country—especially the Afrikaans youth,” Bailey said.

AfriForum views the bill as a direct attack against Afrikaans education, which will have extremely negative consequences for quality education in Afrikaans single-medium schools in particular, but ultimately also for all South African schools.

“The Minister of Basic Education, the deputy minister, and ANC members of the portfolio committee who have already approved the bill make no secret of the fact that they want to put an end to Afrikaans schools—a move that, in effect, will bring an end to mother-language education in all languages other than English in the country. In addition, the legislation will empower the State to add any number of learners to existing schools instead of fixing dysfunctional schools and building more. This is another step that will undermine quality education,” Bailey said.

The Cape Forum said that the ANC government must brace itself because diverse communities were uniting against the bill.

Bernard Pieters, Manager of Community Activation at Cape Forum, said, “This will leave us with a disaster in education that will cause indelible damage”.

He said that communities themselves should be able to decide on the future of their schools and maintained that the current system is a perfect model within the democratic order.

“School governing bodies are elected by the parents and are therefore the most ideal people to decide on admission requirements, language policy, and the purchase of learning materials. The Bela Bill seeks to turn the balance of power around and place the final decision regarding these matters in the hands of the departmental heads”.

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