Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu may face court battle
“In her statement, the minister claims that nursery schools need to obtain approval or certification by the department before they may open. In terms of the recent court ruling, any private preschool that can open safely may do so,” Anton van der Bijl, Solidarity’s head of labour law services said.
The trade union said it considered the minister’s actions in this regard to be in contempt of the court’s ruling. The union has sent a letter of demand to the department, in which the minister was asked to withdraw her remarks immediately and to allow schools to open.
Marisa Engelbrecht, of the union’s occupational guild for social workers section, told Pretoria News they had been inundated with calls from the owners of private nursery schools and early learning centres - left confused as to whether they could reopen without certification from the department.
Judge Hans Fabricius said in his judgment that all private preschool institutions, offering Grade R and lower, may open, provided they have adequate safety measures against Covid-19.
Engelbrecht said nowhere in the judgment does it say the department first had to issue a certification of readiness before these schools could open.
She also questioned how the department was able to access more than 29000 of these nursery schools across the country.
Engelbrecht also pointed out the minister never gave her input during the urgent application brought by the union to have private nursery schools open their doors if they were in a position to do so.
“Why is she now prescribing what should happen before they are able to open?” she asked.
Van der Bijl meanwhile said if the minister was found guilty of contempt of the court order, by hindering the preschools from opening, the minister’s actions can incur a prison sentence for herself.
Judge Fabricius last week overturned governments’ regulations that these institutions remained closed under lockdown level 3.
The minister never filed any court papers in her opposition to the case, while her Basic Education and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs counterparts said they would abide the court ruling.
Judge Fabricius said in a case involving the lives of millions of South African children, this conduct of government was unacceptable. He said he was left to decide on an important judgment without any input from the government’s side.