Controversial new laws for schools in South Africa a step closer to reality

 ·21 Aug 2023

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education has concluded its deliberations on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, with a new updated Bill soon to be released.

The Bill, which seeks to amend the South African Schools Act (SASA) of 1996 and the Employment of Educators Act (EEA) of 1998, has already undergone an extensive public participation process, with members of the public already making oral submissions on the Bill.

Some of the amendments that the initial Bill aimed to make include:

  • Making grade R the new compulsory school starting age, as opposed to grade 1, as is currently the case.
  • Forcing homeschooled learners to be registered for this type of schooling.
  • Criminalising parents who do not ensure their child or children are in school, with fines or jail time up to 12 months.
  • Holding school governing bodies more accountable for disclosures of financial interests – including those related to their spouses and family members.
  • Prohibiting educators from conducting business with the state or being a director of public or private companies conducting business with the state
  • Abolishing corporal punishment and initiation/hazing practices.
  • Allowing schools to sell alcohol outside of school hours.
  • Giving government department heads power over language policies and the curriculums a school must adopt.

“In some instances, members agreed that certain provisions did not belong in the Bill. In other instances, we vigorously debated some clauses, while in some instances, the DBE requested clauses be removed before we commenced deliberations on them. This speaks of a Parliament that listens to the people,” Committee Chairperson Ms Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba


During the public consultation process, members of the public across the nation’s provinces expressed mixed views of the new Bill.

Generally, there has been support for making Grade R the compulsory start of the schooling system, despite questions about funding, admin and capacity remaining.

However, the sale of alcohol on school premises during after-school events received almost no support from the public. The proposal was widely rejected, given the current legal framework and the call to see no liquor on school premises.

According to Wynand Boshoff from the FF Plus, following the public participation process, the clauses allowing for alcohol to be sold on school premises and the compulsory declaration of interests by every member of a school governing body has been scrapped.

However, there were conflicts in parliaments over the clauses giving provincial departments the power to declare a school’s language and admission policies and the roles of home schools.

“During the discussion of these clauses, the ANC and EFF banded together as if they were part of the same caucus. The centralising nature of it is their cup of tea, while the FF Plus, ACDP and the DA continually took a stand against it,” Boshoff said,

“(James) Ndlebe (the head of School Governance in the Department of Basic Education) kept assuring that every decision will involve extensive consultations. He denied that school governing bodies will lose their powers and added that these clauses simply ensure that judgements by the Constitutional Court become part of the law.”

“The FF Plus will pursue all parliamentary avenues to stop this Bill. Extra-parliamentary steps will only be considered if that totally fails.”

Read: Big boost for private school group in South Africa

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