Education Department Slams DA For Taking Credit For BELA Bill Decision

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Public participation in the legislative process seeks to allow stakeholders to make sure that they can influence decisions made by the government that ultimately impact their lives. It is therefore important that all stakeholder inputs are considered when it comes to the education of South Africa's next generation.

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The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has expressed concern regarding how some members of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education have understood the BELA bill. In a recent statement, the Basic Education department’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga called out the portfolio committee member for misleading members of the public. 

The Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) bill was first formally developed in 2017, and the first parliamentary discussion of it took place in 2022. The South African Schools Act of 1996 as well as the Employment of Educators Act of 1998 are two laws that the department hopes to amend using the proposed BELA Bill.

Mhlanga says the DBE is considering all inputs it received from stakeholders gathered during the broader public consultations that took place around South Africa. 

The Department has full confidence in the work and processes of the Portfolio Committee. The Committee has this week also unanimously agreed to process all inputs received either orally or in writing. 

Considerations around public comments were thrust into the spotlight after parliament agreed that all submissions made by members of the public are considered. 

Mhlanga says the DA Portfolio Committee member Baxolile Nodada is being disingenuous for claiming victory even though all committee members agreed on the process going forward. 

It must also be noted that Mr Nondada has sought to mislead members of the public about the intentions of the BELA bill and its characterisation that is “a draconian bill” 

Opposition To The BELA Bill 

The Democratic Alliance released a statement declaring that parliament agreed with the party that all email submissions that are yet to be analysed be processed and considered regarding the BELA Bill. The political party described the bill as draconian and argued it seeks to disempower communities and School Governing Bodies (SGBs). 

A Bill that fails to incorporate the concerns and suggestions from the homeschooling sector and does not address online or blended learning, nor the severe systemic problems of the basic education sector, to be bulldozed through Parliament. We will continue to fight for good quality education for South African children.

James Ndelbe, Chief Director for Provincial Monitoring and Delivery Oversight, says SGBs cannot be afforded unlimited and unchecked powers giving them absolute power over school matters. 

No grouping can have absolute power and account to no one in a democratic and sovereign state. 

One change the BELA Bill seeks to bring is the requirement of SGBs to submit the language policy of a public school and any amendment thereof to the provincial head of department for approval. Ndleba says this requirement is not a battle against a particular language grouping but rather a country-wide challenge where schools were built along ethnic groups. 

Now that there is a racial and ethnic mix in all communities, some children are still unable to access schools in their neighbourhoods because they [schools] have been designated to serve a particular ethnic group. 

What The BELA Bill Proposes 

Several changes will come into effect if the BELA Bill is officially passed. These changes include

  • Making Grade R the new compulsory school starting grade, as opposed to Grade 1
  • Criminalising parents who do not ensure their child or children are in school with consequences including receiving fines or jail time up to 12 months and making it a crime.
  • Requiring Parents and learners to supply specified documentation when applying for school admission
  • Holding School Governing Bodies accountable for disclosures of financial interests – including those related to their spouses and family members. 
  • Requiring SGBs to submit the language policy of a public school and any amendment thereof to the provincial head of department for approval.
  • Prohibiting educators from conducting business with the state or being a director of public or private companies conducting business with the state
  • Abolishment of corporal punishment and initiation/hazing practices 
  • Alcohol consumption will be allowed on school premises at after-hour events
  • Several consequences are set to impact homeschooling in South Africa

Although only a week remains before the new law can be voted on by members of the public and constituencies of the committee, there seems to be no consensus between some portfolio committee members regarding some of its clauses, particularly regarding the powers conferred on School Governing Bodies to determine policies relating to the development language and admission.  

The DBE is confident that the Portfolio Committee process will result in an outcome that will assist the education sector in taking the transformation agenda of the country forward. 

Suggested Article:

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga

The administration and governance of schools throughout the country could see notable changes depending on the approval of a proposed bill amendment. However, there are still those who are opposed to the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill.

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