Hoërskool Overvaal: Lesufi's awful record - Politicsweb

Jan 24, 2018
24 January 2018 - “The school's Afrikaans-only language policy was previously rejected by the education department”, and that “Afrikaans was a language that symbolised ‘sorrow and tears to the majority of those (of) whom it was not their mother tongue’”.


By Sara Gon 

Send in the Scoundrels

To misquote Samuel Johnson, anti-white racism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. In this sorry tale, there are a number of scoundrels.

The first is Member of the Elective Council (MEC) for Education in Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi. To some in the local media, Lesufi is a superstar – articulately and in dulcet tones slaying white, racist dragons in schools for violating the rights of their black victims.

Except this crusader often lights the racial fires or feeds the conflagration. But his besotted media following takes his word.

Lesufi did this with Pretoria High School for Girls. In the Koeitjies En Kalfies pre-school debacle, his reaction was a knee-jerk allegation of racism deduced from a photo on social media. Lesufi tweeted that he was going there to “face-off with racists”.

As with Pretoria Girls, Lesufi invited his 29 000 Twitter followers to join him in confronting the school. As if this wasn’t bad enough, he re-tweeted photos of the toddlers‚ which enabled the public to identify them.

Now he has tarred Hoërskool Overvaal with the brush of racism to hide the GDE’s incompetence and failures.

On 9 January 2018, the school approached the North Gauteng High Court for an urgent application to overturn a Gauteng Department of Education’s (GDE) decision to force the school to accept 55 pupils who wanted to be taught in English. The school argued that it had reached capacity; the GDE argued that it had used language to exclude the 55. It is not within the scope of this article to deal with the judgment in detail, but the reference is below.

Among the emotionally manipulative statements contained in the GDE’s response to Overvaal’s application were the following: “Language could not be used to segregate pupils”; “The school's Afrikaans-only language policy was previously rejected by the education department”, and that “Afrikaans was a language that symbolised ‘sorrow and tears to the majority of those (of) whom it was not their mother tongue’”.

These comments are in breach of the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 (SASA) and the Gauteng Schools’ Education Act 6 of 1995 (“The Act”).

Overvaal is an Afrikaans-medium school. Its refusal to accommodate the 55 was because the school was already at capacity, with pupils who accepted Afrikaans as the medium of instruction, including black children. A single-medium school cannot become a dual-medium school overnight.

The Act sets out grounds for admission: Section 18 (A) provides that the governing body must determine the language policy of the school subject to the Constitution and SASA.

Section 18(2) obliges the governing body to submit a copy of the language policy to the MEC for vetting and noting. If at any time the MEC believes that the language policy of a public school does not comply with the Act’s principles or the Constitution, the MEC, after consultation with the governing body, may direct that the language policy of the school be reformulated (Section 18(3)).

SASA states: “The governing body of a public school may determine the language policy of the school subject to the Constitution, this Act and any applicable provincial law. No form of racial discrimination may be practised in implementing policy determined under this section.”

So if a school refuses to admit a pupil because he is black, it is unfair discrimination. If the school refuses admission to a pupil who refuses to learn in the medium of instruction, then it is not unfair discrimination.

The Basic Education Laws Amendment Law of 2017 proposes some far-reaching changes. The provincial Head of Department (HOD), the MEC’s immediate subordinate, will in future approve all governing bodies’ admissions policies.

The HOD may direct a school to adopt more than one language of instruction, after taking certain prescribed factors into account, and after the prescribed procedures have been followed. Various considerations include the best interests of the child, the interest of the community and classroom space. (Our underlining)

Lesufi has been champing at the bit to get his hands on suburban schools, and get language and admissions policy-making away from governing bodies and into his hands.

Currently, the law does not support an MEC who tells a school, one month before the new year starts, that it must become a dual-medium school.

The Court gave Lesufi and his subordinates a judicial tongue-lashing:

“The second respondent [the district director] and perhaps the HOD and the MEC [Lesufi] acted in conflict with the constitutional principle of legality…the 5 December decision was unlawful and falls to be set aside on review….The action was taken for the reason not authorised by the empowering provision and irrelevant considerations were taken into account and relevant considerations were not considered…there are also well known grounds of bias and irrational conduct.”

The Court found the GDE’s submissions regarding the language allegations illegal.

The GDE stated that governing bodies do not determine whether a school is full. The GDE said that “the school, with 21 classrooms, has a capacity of 840 learners, but currently only accepts 621. Additional furniture and textbooks have already been procured and an English educator will be appointed for the pupils.”

But remember, Overvaal is a high school. Will there be 55 pupils in one class? How will one English speaking teacher be competent to teach all the subjects that the school offers? How will the timetable work? How and by whom will it be funded?

The GDE often decides whether a school is full without having regard to the difference in class sizes, nor to health and safety concerns. Overvaal was told it could convert its science laboratories to accommodate the additional children.

The District Director (Director) particularly raised the court’s ire. Directors deal directly with the schools. Principals can attest to how impossible their lives can be made, depending on who their Director is. In this case the judge found her “obvious bias” regrettable.

Her comments included those mentioned earlier – that “Language could not be used to segregate pupils”; “The school's Afrikaans-only language policy was previously rejected by the education department”, and that “Afrikaans was a language that symbolised ‘sorrow and tears to the majority of those (of) whom it was not their mother tongue’”.

On 7 December Overvaal’s attorney sent a letter to the GDE advising it that its instructions may be illegal and asking the GDE to reconsider the admissions. The attorney asked for a response by 14 December. No response was received.

Overvaal then issued its application to court on 20 December. It was set down to be heard on 9 January. Judgment was handed down on Monday 15 January with school due to start on Wednesday, 17 January.

A crushing legal defeat of the GDE did nothing to deter Economic Freedom Front (EFF), African National Congress (ANC) and Black First, Land First (BLF) supporters from being at the school bright and early, and ready for a fight.

As we know, the EFF and BLF are unabashed anti-white racists. So, too, are some in the ANC. It is fair to say that little about the violence that erupted was spontaneous. The protest was designed to elicit a reaction from Afrikaans parents. Some of the parents of the 55 threatened to burn the school down.

Inevitably, teargas and rubber bullets were used. But it is clear that the EFF, BLF and the ANC-aligned Congress of South African Students were there to aggravate not conciliate.

Notwithstanding the court’s judgment, critics continued to wrongly accuse Overvaal of excluding children via its language policy.

Steve Labona, spokesman for Lesufi, said last Wednesday that “there is a need for English to be taught here. It is a short-lived celebration ….we will fight it to the last court.” He added: “The situation does not allow for the MEC to come here.” No conciliation there, then.

It is probably a matter of time before Lesufi and his colleagues get the powers they want. The appalling majority judgment of the Constitutional Court regarding the removal of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at the University of Free State points the way.

Overvaal may become a dual-medium school in the future, but there is a lot more process to be followed before this happens. The GDE may find that more Afrikaans-speaking pupils will want to go to Overvaal, and they won’t be white.

Until then Lesufi must apply the law and spend less time playing the false messiah.

*Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the SA Institute of Race Relations (IRR) – a liberal think tank that promotes political and economic freedom.

Read the article on Politicsweb here.

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