Minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, called for calm at Hoërskool Overvaal as various political parties continue to protest outside the school premises.
Motshekga addressed media on Monday afternoon following a meeting with school management, representatives of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Governing (Fedsas), Gauteng education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi and other stakeholders.
“I went to the school to speak to the school management and to check on the learner attendance and their safety. More importantly, I wanted to reassure them that as the department we respect the rule of law and that we are not going to impose any decision we take on them. I told them that we will work closely with them on how to normalise the situation and deal with whatever matters that have led to the situation outside the public glare,” said Motshekga.
The protest was sparked when the North Gauteng High Court ruled in favour of the school in a case against the education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi. Lesufi wanted the school to admit 55 learners but the school refused, citing a lack of capacity. Protesters, however, believe the school is racist and denying access to children who do not speak Afrikaans. The school uses Afrikaans as the medium of instruction.
Motshekga said over the weekend she also spoke to the provincial secretary of the ANC and requested they hold a peaceful protest without incitement of violence. She said children should not be endangered and school should not be disrupted. Motshekga said a decision was also taken to speak to every political party including the Economic Freedom Fighters who she said met with MEC Lesufi.
“I am told it was a tough meeting but in the end they reached an agreement on the need to keep things calm,” said Motshekga.
She said Gauteng was under immense pressure for space and therefore they want to place as many children as possible. However, she also conceded there was merit in the judgment that “indeed as the department, we have problems with spaces but we can’t also make impossible demands on schools which they would not be able to meet in a short period of time”.
Said Motshekga: “So, partly yes, as government we are happy with how the court handled the matter but we are also saying it can’t be our problem alone as government to find space because every child has a right to access education. We have to be able to strike the balance somewhere and schools in the communities would have to accept the fact that we are under pressure to find space for every child.”
She suggested that since the matter was the subject of the courts, the protesters should join Gauteng education department as friends of the court.