BELA Bill: public participation ignored; Bill pushed through Parliament

26th September 2023

Despite extensive public participation processes at great cost and the DA’s efforts to ensure that every submission made by the public is considered, the ANC majority of the parliamentary portfolio committee on basic education pushed the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill through. The DA and other opposition parties voted against the adoption of the Bill in its current form.

Just a few weeks ago, Parliament indicated that the majority of submissions rejected the BELA Bill. This was merely reflected in a line in a report, and not fully qualitatively or quantitively presented to the committee like the other submission reports had done. In fact, had the DA not insisted that all submissions be analysed, thousands of emails would have been sent in vain with their content unrepresented.

But the thousands of analyses and submissions, the hundreds of kilometers travelled and the more than R8 million spent on public participation hearings in the provinces, made almost no impact on the ANC’s handling of the BELA Bill. Serious concerns were ignored and questions regarding the wording of clauses, the impact of clauses on schools and communities, and the practical feasibility of the planned centralisation remain unanswered.

The BELA still disempowers school governing bodies (SGBs) from determining their own admission and language policies and places final authority in the hands of the Heads of Provincial Departments, making them both players and referees who could abuse this power to further destroy quality education.

Instead of the Bill focusing on the real issues affecting quality education in the country – overcrowded classrooms, dangerous infrastructure, quality of teaching – opposition parties were told that the BELA Bill’s purpose was purely to address administrative concerns. Yet this Bill fails to address the legal lacuna of blended and online learning – an issue the DA has continually raised.

The Department of Basic Education and the ANC members of the committee also said that the Department had sufficiently engaged with the home education community. Yet it was made clear during the public participation hearings that engagements between the Department and home schoolers mirrored those of the BELA Bill – a box ticking exercise where concerns are brushed aside.

The DA will continue to oppose the draconian BELA Bill. We will not be bullied into submission and will continue with every effort to ensure that South Africa has a true participatory democracy. Scapegoating high achieving schools should not be national policy. Instead, the Department needs to focus on implementing successful strategies in struggling schools and lifting their standards.

 

Issued by Baxolile 'Bax' Nodada MP - DA Shadow Minister of Basic Education