Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Tuesday accused nongovernmental organisation Equal Education of being disingenuous in its battle to get her to publish norms and standards for school infrastructure. She questioned the group's interest in the education of African children.
Her department's spokesperson also called the nongovernmental organisation's court appearance over a different matter this week a "gimmick".
Motshekga’s statement was in response to the mobilisation of pupils, parents, teachers and other community members by Equal Education to participate in marches in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Pretoria demanding safer and better-resourced schools.
" … To suddenly see a group of white adults organising black African children with half-truths can only be opportunistic, patronising and simply dishonest to say the least," Mothsekga said on Tuesday in the statement.
Last week, the organisation said it was taking her to court again for allegedly breaching an agreement to publish the norms by May 15. Judge DZ Dukada at the Eastern Cape High Court ruled, according to Equal Education’s request, the matter was urgent and would be heard in on July 11.
The nongovernmental organisation said on Tuesday evening it was shocked and disappointed by Motshekga's comments.
Equal Education chairperson Yoliswa Dwane called for Motshekga to distance herself from the statements, which it said was racist.
"Equal Education consists of people of every background and we are very proud of this. Any person who commits [themselves] to advancing the daily struggles of poor and working class youth is welcome in Equal Education," said Dwane.
"That these values exist is something that those responsible for education should celebrate, not attack."
Motshekga published a draft set of norms in January which Equal Education and other activists and lawyers described as “severely inadequate”. Motshekga said in Tuesday’s statement that a re-draft of the document would take at least six months to complete.
She said she has been communicating with Equal Education to update it on the department’s progress in this regard.
She wrote a letter to the organisation on May 9 in which she indicated that the compulsory consultation process with the National Economic Development and Labour Council had not been concluded. When she received its report, Motshekga said, she would consider all recommendations.
"It is important to emphasise that norms and standards cannot be published at the whim of Equal Education," said Motshekga.
"The South African government is a democracy that requires all involved and interested in education to have ample time to make input to the final regulations," she said.
But Equal Education said “every factual claim” by the department in its statement “about the process needed for the finalisation of Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure is wrong and misleading”.
Meanwhile, basic education spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi said the department would appear in court if it received a notice to do so after a grade 11 Eastern Cape pupil took it to court over the condition of her school.
"We believe this case is part of the gimmick of the Equal Education to embarrass the department," he said.
Equal Education is one of the applicants in the case.
Last year the pupil took Motshekga, the Eastern Cape's education minister, her school principal, and the school’s governing body to the Bhisho High Court about the condition of her school.
The matter went before the court on Tuesday and was postponed to October 22.
Palesa Manyokole, of the Moshesh Senior Secondary School in Queen's Mercy, complained that the principal was often absent and unlawfully expelled pupils; teachers were absent and late; there was a shortage of qualified teachers; and there was no curriculum planning.
The basic education department claimed that, as from July, it would open one school per week in the Eastern Cape.
These are an addition to several other schools opened in Mthatha in the last three months.
These former mud structures reportedly all have early childhood development facilities, administration blocks, soup kitchens, ablution blocks, water and electricity.
"Equal Education will not be brave enough to acknowledge this, or any progress we make on a daily basis regarding school infrastructure," said Motshekga.