E Cape education minister says children have no rights

No child under the age of 21 who are still dependent on their parents for food and shelter has any rights, the minister of education in the Eastern Cape, Mandla Makupula, allegedly told a debating contest over the weekend.

The Eastern Cape’s Dispatch Online on Tuesday quoted the minister saying: “For you, rights come later in life when you are independent, finished studying and have your own place to stay and your own car. That is when you can start talking about rights.”

Makupula was reportedly addressing the Bhisho legislature, where hundreds of pupils were attending the provincial schools’ debate on Premier Noxolo Kiviet’s state of the province address.

He allegedly referred to an Eastern Cape boy who took his father to court after he was forced to attend initiation school. This would not have happened in his home, he reportedly said.

“I asked myself what was wrong with that boy. His father did go to the initiation school, but because of the rights now, he did not want to go there himself … I wish he could have been my child, I would have hit him on the head with a knobkerrie and he would have gone to that initiation school crying.”

Rights groups have reacted with outrage saying his comments show “an astonishing misunderstanding of the constitutional rights”.

'Disregard the rights of children'
The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and the Centre for Child Law said they “have no confidence in an MEC for education who would brazenly disregard the rights of children”.

The two groups have been involved extensively in the fight for the right to basic education in the province including court action over desks and chairs and teachers’ vacancies.

Regional director of the LRC, Sarah Sephton, told the Mail & Guardian that Makupula’s comments are an example of “the state of chaos in the Eastern Cape department of education".

“His comments aren’t so surprising when you have an minister who doesn’t think it’s very serious that there are over 6 000 teacher vacancies in the province and the department has made no indication to schools that it is dealing with the matter urgently,” she said.

Last year, the LRC filed court papers on behalf of 17 schools and their hundreds of teacher vacancies. The matter was settled out of court a week ago with the department agreeing to fill the vacancies. The vacancies at the rest of the province’s schools are still to be addressed, Sephton said.

Shocking and irresponsible
Director of the Equal Education Law Centre, Dmitri Holtzman, said the minister's statement was “shocking and irresponsible”.

“In the context of human rights month and many examples of rights being violated in the education context specifically, these comments are even more outrageous,” he said.

“The minister must be reminded that the Constitution not only makes provision for the rights of children but says the rights of children are paramount in any context relating to the child … If the minister did in fact make these statements it would be very unfortunate if there was no disciplinary action brought against him.”

The Eastern Cape education department did not respond to questions at the time of publication.

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Victoria John
Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011.

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