The Congress of South African Students (Cosas) started the movement. Cosas spokesperson Penuel Maduna said private schools benefited children of wealthy parents who would get better jobs and be able to start successful businesses.
“In a country that claims to ensure equality among all its citizens, selling better education to those who can afford it and giving poor quality to those who can’t should be foreign,” he said.
“The recent incidents of racism in private schools are an indication that these former Model C schools have not transformed and still send a message that those born in rich families are superior than those of us from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Maduna said.
He said they were inspired by the 2015 #FeesMustFall movement and the 1976 Soweto uprising.
The #FeesMustFall movement began in 2015 in response to the rise in fees at South African universities. The protests started at Wits University and spread to other institutions around the country.
The 1976 uprisings were sparked by the introduction of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction and against Bantu education. The protests, which began in Soweto, spread around the country and led to the deaths of more than 170 people.
Maduna argued on Sunday that the current education system created job seekers rather than job creators.
Cosas had apparently been deliberating on this matter for years but had not made progress when they tried to get the issue addressed.
Maduna said they were planning a social media campaign to drum up more support for their cause and planned to march to the Union Buildings later this year.
“We are going to continue with the struggle until the goal is achieved. This is what young people are demanding,” he said.
Maduna conceded that achieving this would take time and urged politicians to lead by example by sending their children to public schools.
Professor Labby Ramrathan, of the University of KwaZulu- Natal’s School of Education, said nationalising private schools would pull down South Africa’s growth and development.
He said nationalising education meant depriving people of the opportunity to excel. “They seem to be fixated on keeping South African citizens mediocre and devoid of excellence,” he said.
What the movement should be spending its energy on is improving South Africa’s 55 000 public schools, Ramrathan said.
He also criticised the commodification of education for profits. “The reason is that South African education is so bad it is creating a business opportunity,” Ramrathan said.
Vee Gani, of the South Durban branch of the KZN Parents’ Association, said nationalising private schools would not work. “Nationalising private schools is stupid,” he said.
Gani said if public schools were adequately funded then people would not send their children to private schools.
“If the parent can afford it, they can do it. You have no right to tell them what to do with their money,” he said.
He said even parents in townships sent their children to private schools instead of local facilities. Gani doubted this call would succeed as the government was already struggling with providing free tertiary and basic education.
Nomarashiya Caluza, provincial secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, said some private schools charged exorbitant fees but still had poor facilities. She said government schools were also in poor condition and needed to address issues like pit toilets, asbestos roofs and mud schools.
Thirona Moodley, KZN chief executive of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, said she could not comment on the call, but the “mushrooming” of private schools for profit was worrying.
“Education is not a commodity that can be sold to the highest bidder,” Moodley said.
Kwazi Mthethwa, the provincial education department spokesperson, said he could not comment on the matter as this was a policy issue that would be discussed at the legislature.
Mthethwa denied that the education system created job seekers rather than job creators and said many people who went to public schools had become job creators.