Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi is preparing to fight the Afrikaans-medium Overvaal High School in the Constitutional Court, but says he does not have a vendetta against Afrikaans and that it’s about changing demographics.
Lesufi’s department has filed an application to appeal against a judgment of the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria last month which found that the school in Vereeniging was filled to capacity. Neighbouring English schools had ample space to accommodate the 55 English-speaking pupils who had applied to attend Overvaal, according to the ruling.
“There is no war against Afrikaans or Afrikaans-speaking communities,” department spokesperson Steve Mabona said. He declined to answer a question about which schools the MEC would go after once the battle with Overvaal is over, saying it was “not applicable”.
According to Mabona, about 111 schools have been converted from dual medium to English only, of which 43 are in coloured communities.
“The conversions started from 1994 and a large number were changed between 2003 and 2017,” Mabona said. “Coloured families have also moved into previously white Afrikaans areas out of choice or decided to enrol their children in schools near their workplaces, as allowed in the admissions policy.”
He did not answer the question of whether there were consultations with coloured communities about the changes. It was also not clear how many of those dual-medium schools had originally been Afrikaans only.
Some parents said they had to move their children to schools outside coloured communities after the nearby schools were changed to English-medium schools.
However, Mabona said government policy places an obligation on the MEC and the department to ensure that all children can access education in the vicinity of their homes and in their language of choice.
“It is not the intention of the department to displace any pupils in the application of this policy, but rather to accommodate all pupils. This is premised on the fact that all public schools are in essence community schools.
“The conversion of schools from single to parallel-medium has taken place progressively over the last 23 years based on changes in demographic patterns and not only during MEC Lesufi’s term,” Mabona said.
He said that since 1994 there had been a substantial change in the racial and linguistic demographics of communities across a large number of suburbs that had been historically occupied by whites or white Afrikaners.
“In a large number of suburbs, white families put their houses up for sale as a result of demand from emerging black middle-class Africans, coloureds and Indians, who ended up buying properties in these suburbs.
“As a result, the number of Afrikaans-speaking families in these areas declined as they either relocated to townhouse complexes or to other areas where there was work, or emigrated.
“The demand for schooling in a language other than Afrikaans in these areas grew rapidly while enrolment in the historically Afrikaans schools was drastically reduced. Reduced revenue [due to fewer pupils] meant that fees went up.
“So Afrikaans parents moved their children to other Afrikaans-medium schools that were now more affordable or that had a sustainable quality of education.”