Equal Education files new court papers to force Motshekga’s hand

Equal Education filed papers on Monday at the Eastern Cape High Court in Bhisho for the second time in two years asking it to force Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to publish the norms.

Cameron McConnachie from the Legal Resources Centre and the lead attorney for Equal Education told the Mail & Guardian that the judge agreed on Tuesday that "the matter is urgent and should be heard on 11 July. He has given directions with shortened time frames for the exchange of pleadings. The minister must file her notice to oppose within two days."

The nongovernmental organisation said in its papers that the only way to force Motshekga to publish norms and standards for school infrastructure was to take her to court.

"The long history of broken promises and delays by the minister is evidence that without court action she is likely to keep delaying the promulgation of the regulations," the nongovernmental organisation's urgent application filed on Monday said.

"Since March 2010, Equal Education has actively sought to engage the minister and government on the prescribing of regulations for [the] norms … this engagement included writing numerous letters … meeting with the minister and her staff, leading a march of 20 000 people to Parliament …  The minister and her staff gave numerous undertakings that she would publish the regulations. However, this never happened," the papers stated.

The court papers go on to list in detail the many delays, unmet promises and requests for extensions by Motshekga.

Holding government accountable
The organisation says publishing the legally binding document is crucial because it will define what infrastructure at South Africa's 25 000 schools should be. The minister and communities can then use the regulation to hold provincial governments accountable for providing facilities that are conducive to learning in providing them with facilities that are conducive to learning – a far cry from the current state of thousands of schools.

Equal Education first took Motshekga to court in March last year but in November she agreed in an out of court settlement with the organisation to publish the norms by May 15.

A few days before this date, Motshekga asked Equal Education for an extension. Equal Education decided to return to court when Motshekga rejected their offer of a one-month extension saying: "six-months would be a more realistic time-frame".

In a statement released on Tuesday by the basic education department, Motshekga said she needed to conclude consultation processes with those involved, including the National Economic Development and Labour Council.

"Equal Education is fully aware of these processes and the legal timeframes involved, hence the minister's request to allow at least six months for the process to take place. It is therefore disappointing to note the bad faith in which Equal Education is dealing with this matter, by going to court and causing unnecessary media frenzy, considering that they are privy to all the processes required to finalise norms and standards. This approach is nothing but grandstanding, for reasons only known to the NGO", said Motshekga.

But the organisation said in its court papers "there is no basis for the minister now to give Nedlac an extended [and unspecified] period to comment on the draft regulations".

It said in its court papers that of the 24 793 government schools "3 544 schools still do not have electricity, 2 401 schools have no water supply, 913 schools do not have any ablution facilities while 11 450 schools are still using pit latrine toilets". These conditions result in schools that prevent effective learning therefore constituting an infringement of pupils' right to a basic education, the organisation said.

Equal Education asked the court in its papers for Motshekga to be ordered to publish the norms within 45 days of a court order.

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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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