Teachers’ unions and civil society groups have also voiced their concern over amendments to the Western Cape Provincial School Education Bill that allows alcohol to be sold on school premises.
In a province grappling with high alcohol abuse rates, government did not properly consult with groups working on the ground, according to non-profit organisation Hope House, which runs substance abuse prevention and intervention programmes in schools across Cape Town.
It said authorities did not consider the effect drunk adults could have on children at a school function.
“The amended bill sends the message that the education department condones the consumption of alcohol,” says Hope House founder Judy Strickland.
“It disregards the harm to children that inebriated adults can have.
“Associating alcohol with socialising, functions and fundraising in schools is problematic.
“Where children and alcohol are together, children are at risk. That’s why children are not allowed in bars and pubs.”
The communities that have been the most vocal are those where children are most at risk.
“While there are conditions to monitor schools’ making alcohol available, it is not logistically possible to prevent the many potential negative outcomes of such a bill,” adds Strickland.
The changes to the bill do not allow for alcohol to be sold to children.
Education MEC Debbie Schäfer says they believe the amendments could help schools that are struggling financially to raise funds.
“The aim of this amendment is to allow for possibilities in these areas for schools to exercise the responsible consumption or sale of alcohol by and to adults and raise much-needed funds,” she says.
“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.”
She adds that high figures of alcohol abuse exist despite the fact that alcohol consumption at schools is currently not allowed.
“This has clearly not stopped the abuse. We need to look at the root causes of the abuse.”
Two principles at primary schools in Mitchells Plain, who asked not be named, also slammed the proposed amendments.
“This is outrageous. I struggle with half-drunk, half-drugged 10-year-olds almost daily. They do not have access to these things at school and it is already taking over their lives,” says the 54-year-old principal.
The other principal adds: “We will just have to figure out how to raise funds without exposing the children to alcohol.”
Schäfer said schools are not compelled to apply: “If the SGB or HOD is concerned that alcohol abuse is a problem in their community, then consent can be withheld.”