Contentious Bela Bill will be new Basic Education minister’s first tough test

The appointment of DA MP Siviwe Gwarube as Basic Education minister has drawn mixed reactions from the education sector.

The appointment of DA MP Siviwe Gwarube as Basic Education minister has drawn mixed reactions from the education sector.

Published Jul 2, 2024


The appointment of DA MP Siviwe Gwarube as Basic Education minister has drawn mixed reactions from the education sector, with some questioning how she will navigate the contentious Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (Bela Bill), which her party had strongly opposed.

While the bill was passed in May and is awaiting President Cyril Ramaphosa’s assent, the DA has rejected it and threatened to challenge it in court.

South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) noted Gwarube’s appointment with “disappointment”, with general secretary Mugwena Maluleke stating that no amount of persuasion can convince Sadtu that the DA accepted the position in order to ensure quality and equitable education.

“Having acknowledged that we have no powers to dictate to the president whom to appoint, but Siviwe Gwarube of the DA is an affront to Sadtu. The DA has always made Sadtu its enemy number one. Even its election manifesto declared war against Sadtu, lamenting that the union was too strong and must be dealt with. They said they believe that the failures of the education system are because the ANC has allowed our education system to be captured by the vested interests of Sadtu,” said Maluleke.

Gwarube is a politics, law and philosophy graduate from Rhodes University and UWC. She became an MP in 2019.

Deputy academic leader of the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Professor Vimolan Mudaly said: “The minister seems to have no experience as an educator or an education manager and this is crucial for understanding the dynamics of such a portfolio. But this can be overcome by an enthusiastic and dedicated person who seeks to improve basic education in South Africa. School discipline, teacher commitment, learner performance and school resources are priority issues that need to be addressed. It is criminal that schools still operate with no water and electricity and pit toilets. Schools with infrastructural defects must be repaired immediately.”

On the Bela Bill, Mudaly said there were important sections in the bill that needed to be addressed and it will be interesting to see how the minister navigates through this.

Stellenbosch University (SU) professor of philosophy of education and chairperson of Department of Education policy studies Nuraan Davids said the sector needed a minister who accepts the position not as a political role or tool but as a moral responsibility to do what is right so that society can begin to heal and truly transform.

“Crucially, South Africa requires a minister who comprehends the enormity of education, not only as a basic human right, but as the very essence of being and acting with humanity. Education involves much more than equipping young people with the knowledge and skills to actively participate in and contribute to the country’s economy.

“For as long as children are taught under slum conditions, for as long as they are exposed to unqualified and unfit teachers, for as long as schools remain sites of violence, and for as long as children are hungry, education cannot come to fruition,” said Davids.

Governing Body Foundation CEO Dr Anthea Cereseto said they will work with the ministry in the best interests of the sector.

“The ministry’s policies will have to be worked out in due course, after the national dialogue, possibly, since there are significant differences between the various GNU parties’ education policies.

We would not want to see progress in education stalled because the minister and labour unions have an adversarial approach to one another.”

Cape Times