Open letter to Panyaza Lesufi: 'don't lapse into rhetoric that divides'

Mr Lesufi, your recent comments in the media and your media release about the proposed Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, and specifically the comments on this Bill, refers. 

Your comments and threats not only show your true colours, it also exposes the hidden aim of the Bill. The goal is not quality education, instead it is focused on forcing a specific ideological agenda at the cost of public schools.

Your threat that you are losing patience and the fact that you so heavily criticised those opposed to the Bill are cause for concern. The purpose of the publication of any bill is to obtain public participation. 

In fact, the Minister of Basic Education invites the South African public to share their views, namely objective, well-considered and valid commentary in order to improve the education system. As MEC you are supposed to know that each citizen has the right to take part in this process – it is the foundation of democracy. 

One of the complaints against the 46 proposed amendments is precisely that the State wants to prescribe an autocratic system where all powers belong to the State – your actions are not doing anything to allay these fears.

Mr Lesufi, you mention that former Model C schools (which, by the way, have not existed for more than 20 years) are catering for nearly 80% black learners – now that is transformation. What is the case with the rest of the country’s schools? And the schools in your own province?

Your diatribe is focused entirely on Afrikaans single-medium schools – you conveniently refrain from mentioning that more than 95% of the country’s schools are English single-medium schools! 

How does that celebrate the country’s diversity? How does that give expression to the aims of the Constitution? How does that help mother tongue speakers whose right to receive mother tongue education is violated? 

One of the reasons for the success of some Afrikaans schools is because of the importance of mother tongue education – these facts and international research on the advantages of mother tongue education have been ignored by education officials and politicians for too long. 

You also refrain from mentioning that there is no satisfactory funding or staff provision model for parallel-medium schools. Nowhere in the Bill mention is made of this and you have also missed the opportunity! 

Mr Lesufi, you do not mention the fact that too few schools were built in Gauteng due to poor planning and that new schools are not being built fast enough. You ignore studies on international best practice on the size of classes and a smaller teacher-learner ratio. Apparently you think that stuffing more and more learners into one classroom is the answer.

You also neglect to mention that the real problem in most schools are simply poor teachers, governing bodies that are not trained properly, incompetent officials and lack of funding. 

Your reference to citizens commenting on the Bill as “haters” should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. It is irresponsible, divisive and patronising. 

The public education system can be saved through strong leadership, but leadership that embraces public schools, the right of parents to have a say in the education of their children, the importance of equipping governing bodies and departments that function properly and that serve schools.  

Unfortunately, the proposed amendments are not moving in this direction!

Mr Lesufi, you are in a position to make a positive change and you have the ability to use the media effectively. I am challenging you to use the opportunity to cooperate with us to work on a plan to build South Africa for all who live here and not to lapse into political rhetoric that divides and that will destroy public schools. 

I hope the Minister of Basic Education listens to all the public comments, creates the opportunity for dialogue and takes decisions in the best interest of the country. 

I look forward to hearing from you.

Dr Jaco Deacon

Deputy CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS)

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