South Africa: Learners protest ‘drastic and unacceptable’ changes to school infrastructure law

Equal Education members demand action by Eastern Cape Education

Dozens of learners and members of Equal Education donned their school uniforms on Wednesday and marched towards the Eastern Cape Education Department in Zwelitsha.

They oppose the proposed amendments to the minimum norms and standards for public school infrastructure. Under the new draft amendments, deadlines have been removed for when the government must eradicate pit latrines and provide basic services such as water and electricity.

The department extended the deadline for public comment from July 10 to July 31. The initial deadline fell within the current school holiday period.

Year 12 student Gcina Mtya read a memo to a crowd of more than 60 learners and Equal Education members on Wednesday. She said: “Almost four years after the [Bisho High Court] case, the Ministry of Basic Education is finally ready to change the law. But it also proposes drastic and unacceptable changes to infrastructure laws that would cause schools to collapse for many years to come.”

The memo criticized national and provincial governments for their failure to eradicate pit toilets in schools. Mtya also noted the importance of having safe and appropriate school infrastructure, among other provisions such as access to meals, textbooks and transport.

Equal Education’s Itumeleng Motlabane said without deadlines it would be more difficult to hold the department accountable. “We are here to say to Eastern Cape Education MEC Fundile Gade, [he] have to put the pressure [Minister Angie] Motshekga so that these deadlines are not removed,” Motlabane said.

She said there were still more than 1,500 schools with outhouses and the department was nowhere near the court-set deadline to eradicate them.

Motlabane criticized Gade, the MEC since 2019, for not ensuring that municipalities provide water and sanitation infrastructure in all schools. “He is overall responsible for the schools. If the problem is water, he is responsible for liaising with the municipality to make sure the school has water,” she said.

The learners’ grade was accepted by Chris Mdingi of the provincial government on Gade’s behalf.

MEC Gade’s comment will be added as soon as it is received.

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