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BELA ALARM BELLS

DA rallies against Basic Education Bill adopted by National Assembly

DA rallies against Basic Education Bill adopted by National Assembly
The protest against the Bela Bill outside Parliament in Cape Town on 26 October 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)

The National Assembly on Thursday passed the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill. According to the DA, the Bill is discriminatory as it gives the head of provincial education departments and MECs the power to decide what language is taught at schools as well as the criteria for school admissions.

The National Assembly passed the Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill on Thursday, just hours after the DA led a protest against the Bill in front of the gates of Parliament.

The Bill makes Grade R compulsory and shifts the power of determining school language and admission policies from school governing bodies (SGBs) to provincial education heads.

Parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said on Thursday, “In terms of language policy, the Bill provides that a school governing body will now be required to submit the language policy of a public school and any amendment thereof to the head of department for approval.

“The language policy must also take into consideration the language needs of the broader community. The Bill further provides that South African Sign Language has the status of an official language for purposes of learning at a public school.”

The DA says the Bill is “attacking mother-tongue education”, and believes that the ANC is practising discrimination that will further harm the education system.

The DA’s protest was led by its shadow minister of education, Baxolile Nodada, Federal Council Chair Helen Zille and national spokesperson Solly Malatsi, who demanded the law be scrapped.

Zille said she had engaged in a tireless fight to ensure that the Bill promoted an inclusive education system.

“South Africans will not tolerate the destruction of education in the way that the ANC has destroyed every single thing it touches. It is amazing for me to think that almost 30 years ago to this day, I was in the same place, making the same case against the same type of Bill. And that was 30 years ago, shortly after democracy when we had a good South African Schools Act,” Zille said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Parliamentary report mostly gives thumbs-up to Bela Bill, with a few amendments

According to Zille, the ANC wanted to change the law to control SGBs, a move which she claimed resembled the leadership of the apartheid government.

“The ANC violated its law, it wanted to strip the powers of school governing bodies because it wanted to destroy everything that it could not control. If the ANC cannot control something, it destroys it and even when it does control it, it destroys it.”

Zille claimed that the ANC had repeatedly amended the Bill to give the party more power, not to improve the education system but to destroy what was working.

bela bill

DA Federal Council Chairperson Helen Zille addresses protesters outside Parliament in Cape Town on 26 October 2023. (Photo: Chuma Nontsele)

“The ANC hates excellence. It hates anything that works and it destroys everything it touches… The ANC education policy serves their partner Sadtu [the SA Democratic Teachers Union]… There is nothing democratic or teacher about it.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘An unmitigated disaster’ – South Africa’s education system needs widespread reforms: reports

Nodada urged the public and other political parties to join the DA in opposing the “discriminatory” Bela Bill by exercising their democratic right and registering to vote in next year’s elections.

“The ANC likes to purport this law as a law for transformation. That is nothing short of a lie because this law seeks to take away power of parents and communities that know what is best for their children and handed as a loaded weapon to the ANC government that has destroyed every single thing that they touch in this country,” Nodada said.

He said the ANC had failed to acknowledge the necessity of learners being taught in their mother tongue so they could excel in their academic work.

“They want to take away admission and language policy powers from the school governing bodies. It is the SGB that sends their children to these schools knowing the capacity of the school. They do not take more children than they can accommodate so that children study in overcrowded classrooms. It is the SGB that knows what is best for the community, making sure that the mother-tongue education used in the school serves quality education for those children,” Nodada said.

Jaco Deacon, CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), chanted “We the people, not we the government” at the protest.

“What we are seeing now is,” he said, “we are moving back towards a system of state control with state-centralised power. I am concerned as a parent, as a member of the governing body and as the governing body association that we are moving back towards state schools. We have abandoned state schools years ago and put powers in the hands of parents and the public to protect public schools.”

The DA said it “stands concretely against the ANC taking over schools and school language policy”.

The ANC said the Bill aimed to transform and welcome diversity in schools.

“This development is consistent with the ANC’s vision of an education system that puts society at the centre of education transformation… The ANC has a long-standing legacy of advocating for a basic education system that delivers quality education and the holistic development of a young mind, and the Bela Bill aligns perfectly with those values.” DA

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