Sharp differences have emerged between basic education minister, Angie Motshekga, and her provincial counterpart, Gauteng MEC Panyaza Lesufi over the Hoêrskool Overvaal debacle.
This raises concerns about whether the problem will be resolved anytime soon if the two education authorities view the matter differently. Both have expressed their frustrations about the on-going protest at the school.
But Lesufi took what others describe as a hardline position vowing to pursue the matter all the way to the Constitutional Court if need be, while Motshekga struck a reconciliatory tone.
Lesufi strongly feels Judge Bill Prinsloo was biased when he found in favour of the school, saying a different judge would arrive have placed the 55 learners who are at the centre of the dispute.
“We will appeal this decision all the way to the Constitutional Court if necessary. We want to see if the Constitutional Court will also legalise racism,” Lesufi said. He also described the ruling as devastating and a major setback for the transformation agenda.
The Federation of Governing Bodies of South Africa (Fedsas) and the South African Teachers’ Union (Saou) blamed the current standoff at the school on Lesufi’s alleged political statements following the ruling. They said he played to the gallery and to deliberately inflame political emotions adding that the whole issue has been turned into a political football match.
Political formations such as the local ANC, ANCYL, Economic Freedom Fighters, including Congress of South African Students (Cosas) and South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) staged protests outside the school’s gates accusing the school management of racism.
Yesterday Motshekga called for the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) to reconsider its stance to appeal. She said the ruling issue was not necessarily about the language policy but more about an administrative issue.
“I said [to the province] let us not necessarily go and fight. This school belongs to us; the schooling is not resisting to have a parallel medium. It is a resource issue,” she told eNCA.
Motshekga added: “the judge is not raising the issue that English-speaking children can’t attend Afrikaans school or policy issues. The judge is raising administrative errors…let’s deal with them and see if we can address them.”
She said she agreed the GDE was under pressure to place learners and that by ordering the school to place the 55 grade 8 learners, the government is not violating the language rights to use Afrikaans. She said there was place for every language in the country and that they invested so much in Afrikaans.
“There are more people who are not white who speak Afrikaans. There has been a lot of investment in those languages and we don’t want to throw that away,” she said.
But the GDE is adamant to appeal the ruling with MEC Lesufi saying he would not back down until he won the case. Motshekga is under pressure to resolve the impasse and normalises the situation at the school as soon as possible so that the tension does not spill into the classroom. It is believed a meeting is on the cards so that both Motshekga and MEC can harmonise their views on the matter.
And that is just how far she can go. In terms of the Constitution, she was not allowed to intervene as provinces are autonomous from the national departments. The only way ministers can intervene is when the lower structure fails to discharge one of its Constitutional obligations. The minister can then invoke Section 100 of the Constitution which empowers the national executive to intervene in in order to remedy the situation. And indications are it may not reach this stage at least for now.