/ 21 April 2005

Defiant students march on

The Congress of South African Students (Cosas) has threatened to boycott the June examinations if the Department of Education (DoE) fails to meet its demands.

Addressing about 15 000 learners at a march in Pretoria last month, Cosas president Julius Molema warned that Cosas will defy Minister of Education Kader Asmal in the same way that they defied the apartheid government. ‘When [Gauteng MEC for Education Ignatius] Jacobs said gates should be locked during break, we defied him. Asmal said principals must not allow students to march; we defied him. We are here,” he said. ‘We will fight left, right and centre.”

The DoE warned the day before the march that ‘all learners should report to school, and teachers and principals are charged with the task of ensuring full attendance throughout the school day. If students wish to protest, they are free to do so after hours, without jeopardising the future of our children.”

The demands continue to focus on:

– The provision of free and compulsory education for all.

– Stopping government subsidies to independent schools and investing those resources in public education.

– The provision of history as a compulsory subject in all schools.

– The immediate unbanning of Cosas in Gauteng.

History was important in the development of society, Molema said. ‘We believe that this will teach successive generations

of our nation about our struggle and heritage”.

Molema said Cosas was forced to resort to protest marches by the DoE that has shown ‘reluctance” to consider their demands. ‘We are even afraid that the [education] department wants to do away with the organisation,” he said, accusing the DoE of not involving Cosas in consultations.

Duncan Hindle, deputy director-general of general education, disputes this view, saying, ‘They have been involved. In fact, what made Minister [Asmal] decide not to receive the memorandum initially was the fact that Cosas had not requested a meeting with him to discuss these matters beforehand.” Hindle says that legitimate structures and procedures exist to make submissions and air concerns.

Hindle said that the DoE would respond formally to the demands within 14 days. But, said Hindle, ‘They [Cosas] must appreciate that history is compulsory until Grade 9. Whether or not it should be compulsory until matric is another issue. As far as subsidies to independent schools, they are assuming that we give subsidies to wealthy private schools. There are private schools in poor areas that have no resources and we have a responsibility to those schools.”

He also advised the Cosas leadership to look into the report on the review of financing, resourcing and cost of education in public schools and make submissions. ‘The report makes it clear that we cannot guarantee free education to everyone, including those who can afford to pay, in a country that has scarce resources. There are recommendations, however, to strengthen the provision of free education to the poor,” he said.

Hindle condemned Cosas for ‘pulling young children out of school” for the march. He said it was not in the best interests of children to be out of school during school time. ‘Most children [at the march] were aged 11, 12 and 13. Surely Cosas will agree that they should be in class.”

According to Molema, any learner in ‘pre-tertiary education, which includes primary school” can sign on as a member. He said Cosas enjoys a membership of 300 000, with a membership card costing R5.

Unlike previous marches, this one went off without incident. In March 2001, two Cosas members were arrested during a violent march in Johannesburg. Following another march in May 2002 which also erupted in violence, seven Cosas leaders were barred from entering the premises of public schools in Gauteng.