The Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS) has lodged a complaint against the Eastern Cape Education Department at the Human Rights Commission. This follows after the Department failed to deliver teaching and learning support material, including textbooks and stationary, to schools in time for the start of the school year on 19 January 2022.
“This Department has a long history of incompetence and a lack of understanding of the duties of a provincial education department,” said Juané van der Merwe, Manager of FEDSAS Legal Services.
Van der Merwe said it is ironic that the Department informed schools that some textbooks will only be delivered in May this year on the same day that the National Department of Basic Education declared that all provinces are ready for the new school year.
“To add insult to injury, the Department also told schools to use stationary from last year. This despite the fact that last year’s grant was barely sufficient for the 2021 school year.”
Van der Merwe says this is just the latest in what has become a habit of incompetence by officials from the Eastern Cape Education Department. “In December last year, right before Christmas, school principals for given an unlawful instruction to use school funds to pay temporary workers that form part of the Basic Education Employment Initiative. This despite the fact that the Schools’ Act does not allow schools to extend loans.”
Van der Merwe says this lack of understanding of the legal framework within which public schools operate, combined with a complete disregard of children’s constitutional rights, prompted FEDSAS to lodge the complaint with the Human Rights Commission.
In its complaint, FEDSAS points out that the right to basic education imposes a positive duty on the state. Van der Merwe said this means that the right to basic education is not a right that is subject to the availability of resources or other determining factors. “It is a duty that has to be executed irrespective of circumstances, least of all the inability to budget properly.”
To make matters worse, schools that will suffer the most are the so-called “no fee” schools. “These schools have no financial resources other than that allocated by the state. They depend on the provincial education department for everything from pencils and paper to water and electricity.”
FEDSAS has written a letter to the Eastern Cape Education Department for the matter to be rectified immediately and that all schools in the province be provided with sufficient teaching and learning support material before schools reopen on January 19. “If not, FEDSAS will institute legal proceedings that might result in officials being held liable in their personal capacity.”
Van der Merwe says the often arrogant incompetence of some government officials makes a mockery of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. “FEDSAS refuses to be a witness to such blatant disregard for the rights and interests of children and has therefore decided to bring the matter to the attention of the Human Rights Commission.”