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'She was a MEC for anti-education': Mixed feelings at resignation of Debbie Schäfer

The Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer will officially exit her position on May 15, after having spent 20 years in politics, serving in all three spheres of government. File picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency

The Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer will officially exit her position on May 15, after having spent 20 years in politics, serving in all three spheres of government. File picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency

Published Apr 22, 2022

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Cape Town - After eight years, as Education MEC, Debbie Schäfer has called it a day.

This was announced in a joint statement by Premier Alan Winde and Schäfer, who resigned on Wednesday.

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Schäfer will officially exit her position on May 15, after having spent 20 years in politics, serving in all three spheres of government.

Schäfer said she was now ready to bow out of public life, believing that she had left the department better than how she found it.

“I am in the fortunate position to have been offered a job in the legal sector in the UK, which I have accepted. I will be joining some of my family there, which presents a unique opportunity for us to experience together.”

Winde expressed heartfelt gratitude to Schäfer for her “excellent service”.

“Anyone who knows Debbie knows that she is a strong and tenacious leader who fights hard each and every day to ensure a well-run, quality-focused education system in the Western Cape. Her results speak for themselves,” Winde said.

Today (Fri), Winde will announce changes to his cabinet.

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GOOD Party general secretary Brett Herron said: “We have had serious differences with Minister Debbie Schäfer on her approach to leading access to basic education in the Western Cape. Spending priorities have left the development of schools and access to schooling lagging. But we wish her well in her new role in the UK.”

Hendrick Makaneta, deputy chairperson for the Foundation for Education and Social Justice Africa (Fesja), wished the outgoing MEC well.

“Indeed her resignation came as a shock as we were still looking forward to her contribution in the field of education,” Makaneta said.

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“We worked very well with Ms Schäfer. Our relationship was both complimentary and contradictory in a sense that where she performed well, we were the first to applaud and congratulate her. Where we felt that she did not perform well, we would be the first as activists in the terrain to call her to order.”

The ANC spokesperson on education, Khalid Sayed, said they differed “sharply and robustly” for the purpose of driving equality in education in the province, and that these differences were never personal.

“While Ms Schäfer claims to leave the department in a better place than she found it, this is clearly a biased view which contrasts with the lived experiences of learners and educators which prove the contrary,” Sayed said.

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“The DA cannot deliver equality and justice in education regardless of whom the premier appoints. Notwithstanding this limitation, we call on the premier to cast his net wide to find a proper replacement, and this must be done immediately as we cannot afford to have another acting MEC.”

Former veteran principal of South Peninsula High, Brian Isaacs, was equally critical of Schäfer’s tenure. Isaacs said she believed “an authoritarian attitude to teachers, especially teachers working in the schools of the poor, would bring better results”.

“She did nothing to address the main issues in education. She always indicated there was no money to appoint more teachers. She ruled with fear and teachers in general were scared of her... I say that teaching will not miss her. She was a MEC for anti-education."

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