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South African Basic Education Portfolio Committee Disappointed with ‘Expected’ Walkout

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa, August 15, 2023/ — The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education today had to adjourn its planned meeting to deliberate on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill after a walkout of three members left the committee without a quorum.

The meeting was scheduled to consider and adopt the draft report on the public hearings earlier this year on the BELA Bill. It was also scheduled to receive a presentation from the department on the financial implications of the Bill and to start clause-by-clause deliberations on the Bill.

Committee Chairperson Ms Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba expressed her disappointed at the walkout of two Members of the Democratic Alliance – Mr Baxolile Nodada and Ms Marina van Zyl – and Ms Marie Sukers from the African Christian Democratic Party. However, Ms Mbinqo-Gigaba said the walkout was expected. “We noted the behaviour already during the public hearings in provinces and the misinformation that was spread. We noted the comments in our last meeting regarding the draft report on the countrywide hearings. The majority of Members present today indicated that the draft report was a fair reflection of what occurred in the public hearings across the country. That is also why we were able to adopt the report,” the Chairperson said.

Ms Mbinqo-Gigaba said it was at this stage, after the adoption of the report and before the deliberations on the Bill could begin that the three members staged a walkout. “It is concerning. As Members of Parliament and public representatives we can differ with each other. It is how we express that difference that is worrying. Members have all the right to raise objections and have it included in reports. It was clear that this was just another attempt of the group to stall the Bill. We saw it during the public hearings with the misinformation that was being spread. We will however not be deterred and will continue tomorrow with our work.”

The Bill proposes to amend the South African Schools Act (SASA) of 1996 and the Employment of Educators Act (EEA) of 1998 so as to align them with developments in the education landscape and to ensure that systems of learning are put in place in a manner that gives effect to the right to basic education enshrined in section 29(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

Among other things, the Bill seeks to amend certain definitions, to made attendance in Grade R compulsory and to provide for improvements in admissions systems for learners in public schools. It also provides for financial and public accountability frameworks for governing bodies and provincial departments. The Bill further provides the Minister with additional regulatory powers and enhances the decision-making and oversight powers of heads of departments and of members of executive councils.

The Bill further proposes technical and substantive adjustments, clarifies certain existing provisions, inserts provisions not provided for in existing legislation and strengthens enforcement mechanisms for offences and penalties. Some Members previously raised concerns about clauses in the Bill relating to the management of learner pregnancies and the regulation of home schooling.

The deliberations are scheduled to resume tomorrow.

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