/ 14 March 2024

Bela bill will go ahead despite opposition from DA

School Graft4
File photo

The department of basic education says it plans to go ahead with the Basic Education Law Amendment (Bela) bill despite the Democratic Alliance’s “overwhelming rejection” of the bill. 

As the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) committee on basic education holds public hearings on the Bela bill, the main opposition party has issued notices to the public to reject the bill for its “regressive” policies and to stop it from being introduced to the National Assembly. 

The education department has slammed the DA’s response as misinformation and has confirmed that despite the backlash, it will proceed with the bill. 

“[The] DA is a small player in the bigger picture. There are thousands of stakeholders in the basic education sector. Their objection doesn’t mean the country doesn’t want the transformation the bill seeks to bring in the sector. We proceed,” education department spokesperson Elijah Mahlanga told the Mail & Guardian

The bill amends sections of the South African Schools Act of 1996 to respond to administrative and governance problems in schools, and to transform the education system as a whole. 

School governance entails among other things the creation of admissions policies, language policies, ethos and religious values, fundraising, as well as the maintenance of infrastructure and school property in general. 

The bill seeks to introduce the following: 

  • Make grade R the new compulsory school-starting age;
  • Upholding undocumented children’s right to a basic education;
  • Ensuring the inclusion of sign language;
  • Confirming that corporal punishment is no longer allowed;
  • Enhancing the role of oversight by the head of department;
  • Improving governance at schools;
  • Providing clarity on the merging and closure of schools;
  • Penalising parents who do not ensure their children attend school;
  • Searching learners for drugs;
  • Aligning homeschooling and public schooling; and 
  • Setting provisions that are not provided for in the legislation

The DA’s main objection to the bill is that it takes power away from school governing bodies (SGBs), which include parents, teachers and the school community, and puts it in the hands of the head of department (HOD) or the state. 

DA MP Bax Nodada said admissions and language policies should be left to the school governing body to decide.

“The HOD should only intervene when admissions and language policies … discriminated against learners, but they can’t be the approval body,” he said. 

The DA has also objected to the regulations on homeschooling and policies on the mandatory grade R policies, saying they are ill-informed. 

Meanwhile, the Equal Education organisation said updates to the bill are long overdue and that although there are some sections that need clarity, it should be implemented quickly, adding that it disagreed with the DA’s stance. 

“We do respectfully disagree with their interpretation of the bill. If you look at various court judgments, and these are court judgments from the constitutional court and the supreme court of appeal, very clearly said, in no uncertain terms, that the HOD has the final decision-making power to ensure equity with regards to school admissions,” said Equal Education’s legal researcher, Katherine Sutherland.

She said the bill is not introducing anything new but is merely confirming what the courts have already said — that heads of department have a final decision-making authority.

The DA has said that if the bill becomes law, they will proceed with court action. 

Mahlanga said that “it is normal to resolve matters in court if there’s a clarity that is required. We factor that in our planning so it doesn’t change anything at all”.  

The NCOP plans to conclude proceedings before the elections on 29 May.