In a reply to a Democratic Alliance (DA) Parliamentary Question, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, revealed that:
The language policies of schools in the Republic are not hitherto null and void as their development and review should be informed by the periodic review of departmental policies. The development and periodic review of departmental language policies including the Language in Education Policy are informed by provisions such as the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa as well as the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996.
The Minister’s revelation stands in stark contrast to statements made by Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi on 16 August 2019, on a Radio 702 interview. MEC Lesufi used his radio air time to take the opportunity to announce that “all language policies of all our schools have been declared null and void” in Gauteng. These were clearly incorrect and misleading statements.
The MEC misinformed the public by stating that schools had until the end of September to submit new language policies, and that every School Governing Body in Gauteng would be compelled to call parents to vote on which languages should remain and which should be changed. He further stated that “we have passed the legislation in Parliament. That legislation must be adopted. . .”.
No such legislation was passed in Parliament.
While, language policies in schools, are in fact, determined by school governing bodies – the MEC has no power to unilaterally declare all language policies null and void. The Basic Education Rights Handbook clearly states an MEC’s powers in this regard. It states that “while the school governing body determines the language policy of the school, the MEC may intervene if the language policy is discriminatory, unduly restricts access to the school, or is unreasonable in any other way”. None of these circumstances applied to the context of Lesufi’s statements on radio.
The MEC should account for misleading the public as there clearly had not been any amendments to the legislation which guides school language policies to date.
Desiree van der Walt MP
DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Basic Education