Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has dismissed claims that he seeks to attack Afrikaans and mother-tongue education in schools by using the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill.
The DA protested outside the Lesufi’s office yesterday against what the party called the “draconian” BELA Bill.
The party said it was concerned that the bill and what the party called the “the Lesufi clauses” seek to disempower school governing bodies (SGBs) by removing their power to ultimately decide their schools’ language and admissions policies.
“That means school capture and destroying the rights of school communities and SGBs and destroying mother-tongue education where it still exists,” said the DA's federal council chair, Helen Zille, during the protest.
The DA Gauteng spokesperson for education, Khume Ramulifho, said it was important to invest in developing all indigenous languages.
“We can’t afford to have only two languages in our country and since the new dawn of democracy, we have not done that. That is why the battle is between English and Afrikaans, and we must ask ourselves, where are the other languages?” Ramulifho said.
The opposition party demanded that Lesufi publicly retract his support for the BELA Bill, put pressure on the Department of Basic Education and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to withdraw the bill from Parliament and publicly retract and apologise for his “attack, racialisation and stigmatisation” of especially Afrikaans as an indigenous language, among other things.
In response to the protest outside his office, Lesufi hosted a media briefing to clarify concerns which allege that he seeks to attack Afrikaans and mother-tongue education in schools by using the BELA Bill.
“We believe in a non-racial education system where all languages are equal and when we believe in a non-racial education, we believe in mother-tongue languages.
“If learners want to learn in Afrikaans, we will give them space to learn in Afrikaans and if they want to learn in Xhosa, they must be given space to learn in Xhosa, but that does not mean one language must dominate the entire school. But if a certain nation believes that an entire school must belong to them alone, we reject that,” he said.
Lesufi said he found it odd that the bill was termed the “Lesufi clause” or that the protest happened outside his office as responsibility for determining and reviewing legislation in the basic education sector of general application at a national level lay with the Basic Education minister.
The Gauteng Department of Education said this was done through broad consultation with various stakeholders such as unions, SGB associations, all heads of provincial departments of Education and the Council of Education Ministers (CEM), which includes MECs from all nine provinces and a DA minister who sits on the CEM.
“The DA itself endorsed the bill. They can’t endorse the bill and later come and sing against the same bill,” Lesufi said.
The department said the bill was subjected to checks by the state law advisers for policy and legal compliance and was then tabled for the approval of the Cabinet to invite public comments through a gazette. Lesufi questioned why the DA had jumped the invite for public participation and went and picketed outside his office.
“The insinuation by DA and other organisations stating that this bill is being used to attack Afrikaans and mother-tongue education is senseless. This bill intends to promote and defend all languages in all schools.
“They must not bring politics into the education space. Our children must be in the same classroom learning and playing together,” said Lesufi.