Denying a child an education is a crime

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

By Communications Minister Faith Muthambi

The journey from grade one to grade twelve should be likened to marathon. It is about endurance and staying power. Along the way there will be challenges and sometimes even stumbles, but with perseverance and hard work the finish line will eventually loom large.   

For thousands of matriculants the end of their journey is in sight; their hard work has paid off and they are about to reap the rewards. But imagine entering the final straight only to find that a brick wall has been erected in your path. This is the fate that had befallen matriculants and other learners in Kuruman in the Northern Cape. 

The actions by some of the residents of Kuruman in the Northern Cape who had prevented their children from attending school are a national tragedy. No child should be prevented from accessing his or her right to education in the new democratic South Africa.  This is in line with the provisions of section 29 of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution which unequivocally states that “everyone has the right to a basic education including adult basic education”.

In terms of the South African Schools Act, every parent has the responsibility to ensure that his or her child attends a school and no-one should prevent them from attending classes. The Act states that “any other person who, without just cause, prevents a learner who is subject to compulsory attendance from attending a school, is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months”.

The burning of schools, damage to infrastructure, intimidation of children and actions that prevent them from attending classes is therefore unacceptable. In addition, it constitutes a gross violation of human rights and the law and cannot be used to draw attention to complaints about service delivery.

We are hopeful that all pupils will be back in the classrooms soon now that the teachers have returned to schools. The Provincial Government has undertaken to address the needs of the community and the road is in the process of being tarred. It has also appealed to the community to allow children to attend schools. 

Government commends parents who took it upon themselves to ensure that children and teachers go back to school in the Northern Cape. We thank parents for intervening on the future of their children and appeals that the interest of the children should never again be compromised or be used to bargain for community issues.

It is nevertheless a pity that no teaching had taken place in more 50 schools since the beginning of June which affected more than 17 000 learners. It is not the first time that protesters resort to the disruption of schooling in the Northern Cape. In 2012, schools in Kuruman, Olifantshoek and Kathu were disrupted for several months when communities protested about the poor state of roads and lack of municipal services.

It is worrying that the future of our children is being adversely affected through the denial of their constitutional right to education. If this was to reoccur, it could impact negatively on the economic, social and cultural development of the area and ultimately the country.

The youth of South Africa is one of our greatest economic assets. We need educated and skilled young people if we are to grow the economy, eradicate unemployment and compete in the global arena. The actions of those who unthinkingly deprive our future leaders of the basic foundation needed to develop the skills to become meaningful players cannot be allowed.  

President Jacob Zuma has on a number of occasions stressed that education is key to ensuring children fully participate in the running and development of the country.

We are taking steps to ensure that learners, especially matriculants who had affected by disruptions to the school calendar have the opportunity to catch up. The Department of Basic Education is considering several options, including taking learners to camps or having extra classes for children who are now allowed back to school.

We will also ensure that all children learn in a safe environment and law enforcement agencies will not hesitate to act decisively against anyone inciting violence and intimidation. It is important that all communities take a firm stand against those who engage in such criminal acts and allow the rule of law to prevail.

Our Constitution states that “everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions”. However, these rights must be exercised responsibly without violating the rights of others.

When we want to raise issues of concern, we should do so by making use of the channels and platforms that are available to us ranging from public participation programmes to engaging with provincial and municipal leadership. We should however not compromise the interest of children and use it to bargain for community issues.

Government calls on communities to safeguard the rights of our children who are the leaders of tomorrow and not allow a few individuals to reverse, and undermine our historical achievements. Everyone, including the non-governmental organisations should play their part and ensure that our children are in future not prevented from going to schools. Together we will move South Africa forward.


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