Uncertainty and confusion continue as Motshekga delays briefing on school reopening

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga at a congratulatory breakfast with class of 2018 Top Achievers, Vodacom World, Midrand, 3 January 2019. Picture: Jacques Naude/ African News Agency (ANA)

The Human Rights Commission and several other groups have expressed strong opposition to the reopening plan, which appears now to be on ice again.

The media briefing by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, which was scheduled for this evening at 6pm, has now been rescheduled “due to the minister being engaged in further consultations on the readiness for the reopening of schools”, her department has advised.

The briefing will now take place on Monday at 11am at Sunrise View Secondary School in Rustenburg.

Earlier today, according to a report in the Sunday Times, Motshekga was expected to announce that the reopening of schools nationally for Grade 7 and 12 learners would be delayed for at least a week, backtracking on all previous announcements.

The step comes amid widespread resistance from unions and school governing bodies, with the primary concern apparently being that schools are not yet ready in terms of Covid-19 safety and other preparations that were delayed by sectors such as construction only being allowed to return to work from Monday.

The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union told the paper that they expected the minister to make an announcement about the delay later today following “marathon meetings” on Saturday with various stakeholders.

An “insider” to the process said the postponement would be “indefinite”.

The minister was initially scheduled to address the media on Sunday at 4pm on the reopening plan, and the time was then changed to 6pm, before being delayed even further.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said on Thursday that it had written to Motshekga, to recommend that she reconsider the 1 June date. One SA Movement founder and former DA leader Mmusi Maimane also proposed that schools remain closed for a further three months through an online petition.

Both he and the SAHRC said on Saturday that they would go to court to stop the reopening, if necessary.

The SAHRC said it did some independent monitoring of schools for readiness in all nine provinces and after consultations with various stakeholders, including teachers’ unions and school governing bodies.

“While the commission supports the opening of schools as soon as possible in order to give effect to the rights of learners to education, it believes that this should be done in tandem with reasonable and adequate measures and efforts to safeguard the right to health of learners and educators,” it said on Thursday.

“It is thus important that necessary minimum conditions that need to be met for the re-opening of schools, such as access to adequate clean water and sanitation, social distancing, the availability of personal protective equipment, training and the general sanitisation of schools, are met,” it said.

It said feedback from its provincial offices revealed that many schools had not achieved the required readiness to receive learners.

“Most observations from our provincial offices highlight the shortage or inadequacy of water and sanitation as well as personal protective equipment.

“Some even reported that the necessary training was still outstanding. Other observations made during monitoring in provinces are that the levels of readiness for many rural schools are significantly low, so the monitoring continues,” the commission added.

It received confirmation through its provincial office in the Northern Cape that the MEC for education announced that schools in the province would not be ready to reopen by 1 June and that they were looking at learners returning to school on 8 June instead.

“In addition to its own independent monitoring of schools, the commission has had consultations with stakeholders, specifically, teachers’ unions and school governing bodies.

“The various teachers’ unions have urged us that the conditions necessary for the proposed opening of schools for Grade 7 and 12 learners, announced by yourselves, have not yet been met. They said that they based this conclusion upon their own observations on the ground.

“The schools governing bodies informed the commission this afternoon that, as of today, (28 May 2020) about 3,500 schools still have no adequate water,” it said.

The SAHRC added that the reports raised concerns whether schools would be ready to receive learners on Monday.

“The commission has therefore communicated its concerns by letter to the minister and recommended that she reconsiders the date for reopening the schools.

On Thursday, various teachers’ unions in KwaZulu-Natal called on their members to not return to work in preparation for the reopening on schools.

The unions, including the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, Sadtu, National Teachers’ Union, Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie and Professional Educators’ Union, expressed their disappointment with the management of the closure and the reopening of schools in the province.

(Compiled by Charles Cilliers)

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