Alarm bells for Afrikaans schools

 ·28 May 2024

A legal battle is brewing over the future of Afrikaans schools in South Africa, which Solidarity warned is under threat because of a new education bill.

Solidarity is concerned about the impact of the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill on Afrikaans schools.

The National Assembly passed the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill on 26 October 2023 in Parliament.

Basic Education Deputy Minister Dr Reginah Mhaule said the Bill reflects South Africa’s aspiration for a more inclusive, equitable and efficient basic education system.

She said there is a common misconception that the Bill erodes the autonomy of School Governing Bodies (SGBs).

“The Bill aspires to harmonise the powers of the SGB with the directives of the relevant provincial Head of Department (HoD),” she said.

“Whilst the SGB is initially tasked with setting a school’s language policy, the Bill emphasises that this authority is not unequivocal.”

“It ascertains that such policies are adaptable, inclusive and congruent with the constitutional right to basic education.”

The Bill provides for intervention steps that the HoD should take when confronted with discriminatory language or admission policy without imposing his authority unlawfully.

“If these policies remain unchecked, transformation will not be achieved in schools, and the mother-tongue instruction we pursue will never materialise,” she said.

“Children are still unable to access schools in their neighbourhood because they have been designated to serve a particular ethnic group.”

The Bill requires school governing bodies to submit a public school’s language policy and any amendment to the head of department for approval.

The language policy of public schools must consider the language needs of the broader community.

Many Afrikaans schools raised concerns that the bill will force them to change their language policy.

They argue that the bill gives the heads of the Department of Education the final say on schools’ language and admissions policy.

“These amendments threaten the survival of the few single-medium Afrikaans schools that still exist,” Afriforum said.

However, basic education chief director for planning and implementation support, James Ndlebe, said the Bill does not unfairly target Afrikaans schools.

Solidarity threatens legal action

Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann

Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann hit back, saying the government will realise that it has underestimated the value of education for the Afrikaans community.

The trade union has finalised court documents against the proposed Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill.

Solidarity, AfriForum, and the Solidarity Support Centre for Schools (SCS) have joined forces in the legal battle against the Bill.

Hermann said it was clear to the litigating parties that the government is now breaching an agreement on protecting language and culture, which was concluded in 1994.

“Schools are the heart of the Afrikaans community, and the Constitution protects the Afrikaans community’s access to education in their language,” he said.

He argued the BELA Bill gives the head of the Department of Basic Education the final authority over language and admission.

Hermann warned that Afrikaans communities will not accept the government’s attempt to gain control of their schools.

“We are going to mobilise the larger Afrikaans community to protest the amended BELA Bill,” he said.

“The battle begins now, and one of the concrete actions of this process will be litigation.”

Read: How much you need to earn to send your kids to private school in South Africa

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