Bela Bill weakens SGBs authority over language – parties

Despite the successful adoption of the Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill in the National Assembly on Thursday, the controversy surrounding it continues.

The ANC maintains that the bill is firmly based on its dedication to principles of “inclusivity, equality, and progress”, but this assertion faces strong opposition.

The bill  

According to parliament, the bill seeks to amend the South African Schools Act and transform the education sector.

Key provisions in the amendment include making grade R new mandatory school-starting age, with penalties for parents who do not enroll their children at this grade.

The bill also outlaws corporal punishment, thereby imposing penalties for those who violate the rule.

Furthermore, the bill mandates that school governing bodies (SGBs) must submit language policies for public schools to the heads of the department, considering community language needs.

In July, President Cyril Ramaphosa formally made sign language the 12th official language. In this regard, the amended bill also permits for the language to be recognised in public schools.   

Opposition parties reject bill

Opposing the bill on Thursday, civil rights organisation AfriForum argued that the governing party is rushing the bill through to consolidate power in the hands of the state and diminish involvement in school decisions.

The organisation emphasised that SGBs currently have authority over language and admission policies, noting that the bill will transfer that power to education heads.

AfriForum argues that this drastic change is unnecessary to combat discrimination and will undermine local control.

“This will centralise more power in the incompetent hands of the state and render communities’ involvement in their schools by way of democratically elected governing bodies meaningless.

“Currently, the governing bodies have the right to make the final decision on schools’ language and admission policies, but the bill proposes that this power should henceforth rest with the provincial heads of education, in other words with political appointments,” said Alana Bailey, AfriForum’s head of cultural affairs.

“It is being argued that this amendment is necessary to prevent discrimination against learners, but this is a blatant fabrication, as existing legislation provides for the necessary steps to put an end to discrimination, should it occur.”

Bill disempowers SGBs

DA MP Baxolile Nodada shares the same sentiments as Bailey.

Nodada argued that the bill will disempower SGBs, potentially affecting schools with a single language of instruction.

He said the ANC is using the bill to shift blame for the government’s failure to improve the quality of education in all schools.

The DA vehemently rejected the bill, with Nodada saying the party will take the bill for legal review.

“30 years under ANC governance have seen very little development of indigenous languages, despite the decent results of the department’s own isiXhosa pilot for biology, maths, and other subjects,” said Nodada.

“It seems the ANC’s plan is to scapegoat the mere 5% of Afrikaans schools for the government’s failure to provide quality education in all schools regardless of a child’s geographical location, race, religion, or language.

“The DA believes that appropriate mechanisms should be put in place for cases where a school might discriminate against learners.

“However, the HOD [head of department] cannot be both player and referee as the appeals and implementation authority.”

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