Phakamile Hlubi-Majola: DA minister of education the thin edge of the privatisation and colonial wedge

Published Jul 2, 2024


Phakamile Hlubi-Majola

The appointment of a Democratic Alliance (DA) minister to take charge of our children’s education made me meditate on Steve Biko’s seminal words,

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

Workers, their families and all progressive forces should rightfully be trepidatious as DA MP’s take over some key portfolios as part of the agreement to form a coalition government with the ANC and a few other parties.

In a very significant move, the ANC handed the Department of Basic Education to party of the oppressors, the DA, and with it, the key to the minds of our children.

Furthermore, the DA has historically been vocal in expressing its unmitigated disdain for public sector unions. It’s acrimonious actions and statements against organised labour are too many to mention, but here are a few notable ones:

● In 2015, the DA “declared war on SADTU” by filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, accusing the union of sabotaging the education of South Africa’s poorest children.

The DA characterised SADTU as the main reason for the low performance of the Basic Education department.

The DA does not mention austerity (which saw budget cuts of about 2% in real terms for DBE for the next 3 years from 2023), as a reason for the catastrophic under performance of the department.

● From 2021 to 2024, the DA stalled, delayed and ultimately scuppered wage talks with SAMWU in the City of Tshwane, to renege on an agreed increase.

The results of this action have been a historically bad relationship between the municipality and an important stakeholder, SAMWU, which represents many workers in the city.

The way the DA handled these negotiations was correctly described as “irresponsible” by the DA’s Tshwane coalition partner, Action SA.

● For many years, the DA has been unequivocal in calling for a reduction of what it terms a “bloated public service”.

Blaming government workers and then threatening to cull them, has been the DA’s stock response to many of the crises that affect government and service delivery.

The DA views all public servants who were not appointed by them, with suspicion.

A recently leaked letter by the DA’s federal chair Hellen Zille to president Ramaphosa bluntly states that all DA led departments will “reconsider” current directors- general employment contracts as they cannot be trusted to implement DA policies.

There is no regard for workers’ rights. Some now face summary termination because they were employed by the ANC.

The appointment of DA MP Siviwe Gwarube as Minister of Basic Education should be a reason for concern for workers and their families.

Aspects of the DA’s manifesto on education, make for alarming reading. The DA’s policy document on education makes the party’s intentions patently clear.

It can be characterised as calling for as much deregulation as possible, while allowing the private sector to play an increasingly critical role (through the charter school model and other initiatives), at the expense of the public.

Additionally, the DA is vehemently opposed to the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) bill. Its main bone of contention is what it terms the centralisation of authority away from School Governing Bodies (SGB’s).

These are proposed measures by the government to ensure that the transformation agenda of the department is not stymied by SGB’s that use language, fees and admission requirements to continue to perpetuate the segregated schooling of Apartheid.

The Bill proposes that the Head of Department (HOD) can intervene in instances where SGB’s admissions policies fall afoul of the country’s constitution and the bill of rights.

The DAs opposition to the bill has put it squarely in the cross hairs of SADTU.

The union has rejected the appointment of Gwarube as minister of Education, with its NEC “expressing disgust at the DA’s demand for positions” and labelling the DA a self-declared “class enemy”.

The Secretary General of SADTU told IOL recently that, “The DA has been clear interms of rejecting those transformational policies that the Department of Basic Education wanted to implement, including rejecting the Bela Bill that basically wanted to help us with issues of language which should be addressed to deal with discrimination in our schools based on language.”

The battle lines have been drawn.

All stakeholders: workers, parents and learners included, are all anxiously waiting to see just how impactful the DA will be in the department of Basic Education, and what this portends for the incomplete transformation project of the government.

A 2020 report by Amnesty International details, “how the South African education system continues to be dogged by stark inequalities and chronic under performance that have deep roots in the legacy of apartheid, but which are also not being effectively tackled by the current government.”

The DA seems to think that its approach of limited state regulation, namely, granting independence to “high performing” schools (effectively making them charter schools), and growing independent and private schools all at the expense of the public schooling system, will resolve these entrenched systematic problems.

The DA always quotes the performance of its provincial Western Cape government as proof of how effective its policies are.

But a look at the recent 2023 matric results disproves the notion.

The DA ranked 5th behind Free State, KZN, Gauteng and Northwest. Notably, this is a downward trend for the DA with the Western Cape ranking 3rd in 2022 and in 2021.

Should the DA choose a confrontational approach, which, as they have stated in the past, centres SADTU as the major contributor to the problems that bedevil the department, this will be a disaster.

It will alienate a major stakeholder who has an important role to play in the provision of education to millions of poor South Africans.

And, as can be evidenced in Tshwane, this approach will result in shockingly poor service and a shambolic administration.

The DA’s approach will drive up costs, while extracting much needed resources from the state.

The result of this will be further inequality and exclusion of the working class and the poor.

Inevitably, the dysfunction will lead to a collapse of the system, and the DA will be perfectly poised to propose the intervention of the private sector as a permanent solution.

Which is exactly what they would have wanted to begin with.

* Phakamile Hlubi-Majola is a socialist and former journalist. She writes in her personal capacity.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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