Equal Education prepares to go back to court

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Equal Education has been preparing papers to go back to court over norms and standards for school infrastructure, says the NGO.

In the latest development in the two-year long battle to get the document published by Basic Education Department Minister Angie Motshekga, the organisation wrote to her on Friday saying it would not be granting her recent request for a six-month extension to publish the norms.

Equal Education (EE) first went to court in March last year to force Motshekga to publish the norms, which were proposed by the South African Schools Act.

EE says the regulations will provide a binding framework for what South Africa's schools should look like and will enable both the minister and communities to hold provincial governments accountable for removing school infrastructure backlogs.

In an out-of-court settlement signed in November 2012, EE and Motshekga agreed that she would publish the norms and standards regulations by May 15.

Of South Africa's almost 25 000 schools, 3 600 of them do not have electricity, 2 400 do not have water and 20 000 do not have libraries, science laboratories or computer centres.

On May 9 Motshekga asked for an extension to the deadline for publishing the norms. Against a backdrop of many similar requests for extensions, delays and broken promises, EE reluctantly granted her a one-month extension. This was not long enough for Motshekga, however, so on May 17 she wrote to EE asking for a six-month extension.

Mounting pressure
For the last two years pupils, teachers, community members and EE staff have petitioned, picketed, fasted, slept outside Parliament and protested to shine a light on severely inadequate school infrastructure.

They hoped that their actions would pressurise Motshekga to publish the norms, but after she broke many promises to do so, the organisation resorted to court action.

On Friday EE, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, wrote to Motshekga saying: "After careful consideration, including of the history of the matter and the consequences of further delay, they have decided to proceed … by approaching the Bhisho High Court on an urgent basis for appropriate relief."

"We will be filing our client's application shortly," the letter said.

Motshekga requested the six-month extension "in order to ensure a fair process", it said in its letter to EE.

"The department is obliged to consider these comments [from the public comment period] … the consultation process involving the National Economic Development and Labour Council has not been concluded … The redrafted regulations will also have to be submitted to the Heads of Education Departments Committee and the Council of Education Ministers for their input … It should be evident that all of the above processes cannot be concluded within a month and that six months would be a more realistic time frame."

No more extensions
But EE's deputy general secretary, Doron Isaacs, said all the deadlines agreed upon in the out of court settlement agreement signed in November were the minister's own deadlines.

"Everything that is apparent to the minister now should have and would have been apparent to her then. She's already had six months to do everything but despite all our misgivings we offered her a one-month extension. We just can't understand how she would need more than that. Sadly we don't have faith anymore that she won't ask for a further six months.

He said EE had collected over 700 submissions from pupils, teachers and parents through public hearings about what they thought should be in the norms.

"If an organisation like EE can do that then the government needing another six months is not something we can understand," he said.

"That said, if the minister, upon reading EE's letter informing her that it was preparing court papers, changed her mind and agreed to publish the norms by June 15 then EE would suspend it's plan to return to court," Isaacs said.

Written by: Victoria John

Picture credit: Mail & Guardian

  • Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007.

 

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