Education MEC Debbie Schafer

IN AUGUST this year, I announced proposed amendments to the Western Cape Provincial School Education Act, 1997 (Act 12 of 1997), one amendment being to address the extremely restrictive legislation regarding alcohol on school premises or during a school activity.

The period for comment on the bill expired on September 23, 2016. Once we have considered these inputs, the bill, possibly in an amended format, will be tabled in the provincial legislature.

The Standing Committee on Education will then hold 
public hearings, probably early in 2017. If any person or organisation has any suggestions or recommendations regarding any aspect of the bill, I would request them to participate in these hearings.

In terms of the South African Schools Act, 1996 (Act 84 of 1996) the definition of school activity “means any official educational, cultural, recreational or social activity of the school within or outside the school premises”. The current legislative framework is so restrictive that if a principal wishes to take educators out for an event off school premises where any alcohol is served or sold, they are falling foul of the law as it constitutes a school activity as defined.

Furthermore, section 36(1) of the South African Schools Act places an onus on the governing body of a public school to take all reasonable measures within its means to supplement the resources supplied by the state, in order to improve the quality of education provided by the school to all learners at the school.

In the current economic landscape, schools are finding it very difficult to raise additional funds to supplement the schools' income. The consequence of the current legislation is that schools cannot have school functions where alcohol is involved, such as wine auctions, picnics, staff functions at the end of the year, beer gardens at the annual fete, car shows, food and wine festivals, cheese and wine evenings and potjiekos competitions. These fund-raising events can raise a huge amount of revenue for the benefit of our schools. We are trying to better regulate what already happens at many of our schools, which will allow us to put appropriate legislative mechanisms in place. These include rich and poor schools.

The aim of this amendment is to allow for possibilities in these areas for schools to exercise the responsible consumption of alcohol by adults and raise much-needed funds.

I am obviously acutely aware of the huge problem we face of alcohol abuse in the Western Cape and across the country. This is why we have the Alcohol Harms Reduction Game Changer, spearheaded by the premier.

I am not condoning the abuse of alcohol in any way, nor am I proposing that learners drink alcohol or that alcohol is consumed or promoted in their presence. Important to note is that the high figures of abuse exist despite the fact that alcohol consumption at schools is not allowed. This has clearly not stopped the abuse. We need to look at the root causes of the abuse, which is what the Game Changer is doing.

The proposed amendment is to allow for the principal or the governing body of a public school to approve the sale or use of alcohol on school premises, but strictly subject to the provisions of the Western Cape Liquor Act and conditions set by the governing body or the principal.

If the principal or the governing body oppose the sale or consumption of alcohol on the school premises, they are completely within their rights to ban or restrict this at their school. It will therefore be up to each school to decide on their policy position regarding the use or sale of liquor at their school. Nobody who disapproves of alcohol is under any compulsion to consume it.

We are considering a provision that will allow the WCED to withdraw this power to the governing body in the event of abuse thereof. There is scope in the bill to insert additional conditions or tighten up 
existing ones.

The whole point of calling for public participation is so that we are able to engage with all stakeholders and roleplayers so that they can provide us with their inputs, comments, suggestions or ideas. To date, we have received submissions from 17 organisations which we are carefully considering.

l Schäfer is the Western Cape MEC for Education