Equal Education extends deadline for Angie’s agreement

Equal Education has agreed with "great reluctance" to the basic education minister's request for an extension to finally publish the highly contested and long-awaited norms and standards for school infrastructure. 

In a letter sent to the department's legal team on Thursday, Equal Education has given Motshekga until close of business on Friday May 17 to agree to a month extension. "If the minister does not agree to sign the new settlement agreement and carry out her constitutional obligations, Equal Education will immediately renew their application in court," said the letter. 

In terms of the out of court settlement the parties reached last November, Motshekga had until May 15 to publish the norms and standards for school infrastructure. But last week she asked Equal Education to agree to a new postponement.  

The rights organisation said its "great reluctance" is based on "long history" of deferrals by Motshekga to publish policies that would lead to improvement of infrastructure of the country's public schools. "The constitutional rights of vast numbers of learners are breached on a daily basis due to the minister's on-going failure to comply with her statutory and constitutional obligations," said Equal Education in its letter. 

"Meanwhile learners and teachers suffer under conditions in which inadequate infrastructure puts their health and safety at risk, and in which effective education cannot take place."

In her letter to Equal Education, dated May 9, Motshekga said her decision to request for postponement was influenced by public rejection of the existing draft. "… I have discerned that it is undesirable for me to finalise and promulgate the norms and standards in their current form. In the main, stakeholders object to the fact that the norms and standards lack substance and certainty, and there is no clear framework or plan for implementing the norms and standards," said Motshekga in the letter. 

Unexplained delays
This is the draft Motshekga gazetted in January, which drew widespread scathing rejection from Equal Education and other civil bodies. 

The department first promised Equal Education back in 2010 that infrastructure norms and standards would soon be published, the organisation said in its letter to the department. But what followed were unexplained delays and a court application that Motshekga opposed. 

"This latest delay is part of a long history of delays, extensions and unfulfilled commitments that have characterised the minister's generally half-hearted response to the critical question of basic standards for South Africa's schools," Equal Education said on Thursday. 

"Given this record of broken commitments, the decision to grant Minister Motshekga a final extension to June 15 2013 was not easy."

Following Motshekga's request, the organisation's members have "expressed their anger and lack of faith in the minister", said the statement. "Many urged an immediate return to court and mass mobilisation."

But the organisation's leadership agreed to this final extension to June 15, only "provided the minister signs an addendum to the original settlement agreement within the next two days".

Doron Isaacs, Equal Education's deputy general secretary, told the Mail & Guardian Motshekga is sitting with a "good" draft which former education minister Naledi Pandor published in 2008. "She can just go back to Pandor's draft and promulgate it," he said. 

Hope Mokgatlhe, Motshekga's spokesperson, said the minister was not yet aware of Equal Education's letter to her legal team. "Until she gets it, she can't comment on the agreement or the length of the extension," said Mokgatlhe.

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