South Africa

Op-Ed: In defence of Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi

By Thobeka Magcai 30 January 2018

In an open letter, THOBEKA MAGCAI says that to insult Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi was an insult to the many dedicated men and women who spend sleepless nights and sacrifice holidays and weekends to ensure that the system functions effectively.

Dear Angry Black Parents,

Having read and analysed your open letters and posts directed at MEC for Education in Gauteng, Mr Panyaza Lesufi, your anger and insults at the MEC are misdirected. Here is why.

You see, over and above the insults, your engagement on educational matters at this point in time is applauded. Yours has been the missing piece of the puzzle for some time now. In almost all cases where the MEC has visited a school due to some or other crisis, there has been a general complaint that parents, especially black parents, do not regularly attend parents’ meetings when called by the school. As black parents you stand accused of not actively participating in SGB meetings where the school’s policy is formulated as required by the South African Schools Act. It is all good and well to accuse the minister of not doing anything about schools forcing learners to do Afrikaans, 23 years into democracy, but the truth of the matter is that you as parents have the power to change this. In some cases, it is the very black parents who vote against schools incorporating African languages into the school, for whatever reason known to them. The SGB elections are coming up in March; hopefully you can use that energy by getting yourself elected onto the governing body and participating.

MEC Lesufi has been fighting for non-racialism in our schools. He has fostered social cohesion through the schools twinning programme, which sees a township and suburban school sharing educators via live streaming of classes, participating in cultural exchange through arts and poetry and many more resources.

For as long as one can remember, MEC Lesufi has been a lone voice fighting racism in the education sector, going as far as the Constitutional Court, which has ruled in favour of the Department of Education to amend the admission policy, as some schools were using various methods to exclude black learners.

MEC Lesufi has travelled the world in search of the best models to educate the black child. He has spent his allocated resources implementing best classroom practice models from Singapore to London into the state-of-the-art mega schools opened monthly in townships across Gauteng until 2019. It really is an indictment on your part if you have not seen these schools.

An insult to MEC Lesufi is also an insult to the many dedicated men and women who spend sleepless nights and sacrifice holidays and weekends to ensure that the system functions effectively. It is an insult to the MEC, who sacrifices a lot of family, holidays and personal time for the sake and interest of all learners.

You have not seen how the MEC criss-crosses the province, meeting and motivating parents, learners, district officials and educators, sharing his vision on how we need to move as a collective to fix systemic challenges.

You have not seen how he takes personal interest in the well-being of learners, going as far as visiting their families during tough times. You can say, but that is his job, but not only is he doing his job, he goes well beyond the call of duty.

You have not seen how he has committed himself and his managers to 07:00 on Monday morning meetings as planning and feedback sessions.

You have not seen the high standards of performance he expects from his staff, providing the necessary support and resources to address poor performance. For example, the MEC personally visits districts that perform below 80% and dissects to the bone the challenges facing the district and schools (below 60% pass) and provides solutions based on input from officials and educators. He would go further and also meet with parents and community leadership of the schools and implore them to take an interest in the education of their children and provide support to the school and educators.

It is easy to stand on the sidelines and hurl insults; however, do stop to consider that the person you insult has fought so hard for the black child; his primary goal is for every child, particularly that black child from the township, to receive an equal chance at education as those who are from more affluent families.

When the hair protests broke out at Pretoria High School for Girls in October 2016, we were walking alongside the MEC when he confronted the situation, as the learners expressed the racial abuse they had suffered in the hands of their educators. What was odd is that Pretoria Girls High predominantly has black learners, taught by majority white educators. The predominantly white SGB had set a strict hair policy that restricted self-expression of learners, resulting in them taking it upon themselves to fight the system head-on. What was disturbing is that the minority easily dictated to the majority, as mostly affluent parents of the school, some being Cabinet ministers, stood accused of not attending meetings nor participating in SGB processes.

Last year, the Department of Basic Education gazetted for the amendment of the Schools Act in relation to the powers of SGB, admission and language policy. Members of the public were invited to make input into the draft amendment bill, as a direct result of having observed how black parents are marginalised and mistreated by untransformed SGBs. Hopefully, now, black parents will no longer become a spectator to issues of education which have a direct impact on their children.

Nobody can deny that the last three to five years have seen an increasing strain on South African society and yes, some of the anger at the slow pace of service delivery is justified. However, take a moment to reflect on what role you are playing to bring about the positive change for which you insult MEC Lesufi. DM

Thobeka Magcai is the Media Specialist in the Gauteng Department of Education and writes in her personal capacity

Photo: MEC of Education in Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi addresses guests at the launch of the Sanitary Pads Project led by Proudly South African in partnership with Sun International and Proctor and Gamble (P&G) in 2014. (Photo: GCIS)

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