3 July 2024  

Statement: The Equal Education Law Centre is cautiously optimistic as the Department of Basic Education welcomes Siviwe Gwarube as Minister of Basic Education 

The Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) acknowledges the appointment of Siviwe Gwarube as the new Minister of Basic Education, and Dr Reginah Mhaule as the Deputy Minister. We approach this new era for the Department of Basic Education (DBE) with cautious optimism, hoping Minister Gwarube will prioritise the constitutional rights of all learners and dedicate herself to ensuring equitable access to quality education for every child in South Africa.   

Following the seventh democratic general election, where the ANC lost its majority, a Government of National Unity (GNU) has been formed alongside the DA, IFP and other smaller parties. While we recognise the complexities of coalition governance, we are concerned about the expanded Cabinet at a time of fiscal constraint. The addition of seven Deputy Ministers seems at odds with the austerity measures affecting crucial sectors like education. 

The Basic Education sector has not been spared from budget cuts, with real term decreases in funding over recent years. These cuts have dire consequences, particularly for addressing severe infrastructure backlogs faced by schools in rural provinces. Thirty years into democracy, many learners still face overcrowded classrooms, teacher shortages, and inadequate and unsafe infrastructure. South Africa faces a literacy and numeracy crisis, with over 80% of Grade 4s unable to read for meaning in any language. Addressing these systemic issues requires substantial financial investment resources. 

As Minister Gwarube begins her term, the EELC urges her to prioritise the following critical areas:  

  • The Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill – After almost eight years of public participation and parliamentary process, the BELA Bill is finally on the President’s desk awaiting assent. We acknowledge that BELA has been the subject of much debate and, unfortunately, misinformation – including from the Minister’s own political party. While the BELA Bill is not perfect, it is a crucial and long-overdue update to our basic education laws. The EELC, alongside Equal Education through years of advocacy and submissions, has contributed to significant improvements in the Bill. We now urge Minister Gwarube to rise above party politics, recognise the Bill’s importance and use her position to support the Presidential assent to the Bill without any further delay.  
  • Early childhood development (ECD) – Since the function shift of ECD to the DBE, much progress has been made towards reforming the laws governing the ECD sector.  It is important that this momentum is not lost, and that the finalisation of these legislative reforms is prioritised. The Children’s Amendment Bill simplifies registration for ECD programmes and will unlock funding for ECD programmes serving poorer communities. The foundations of lifelong learning and success are laid early in a young child’s life, we therefore call on Minister Gwarube to prioritise the protection and promotion of the rights of young children and to ensure that there is a duty on the state to provide and fund ECD programmes. 
  • Inclusion in schools – Many schools across South Africa continue to be spaces of exclusion and ostracism for learners on the basis of disability, migrant or refugee status, LGBTQIA+ identity, and other prohibited grounds of discrimination. We are especially appreciative of Minister Gwarube’s repeated public commitments to the protection of LGBTQIA+ rights in South Africa, including in our schools. The Department has, since 2021, had draft Protocols and Guidelines for the elimination of discrimination and the inclusion of learners of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, expressions and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). The Guidelines are a crucial tool in supporting schools to implement their existing legal duties to protect and include all learners. We urge Minister Gwarube to make manifest her commitment to LGBTQIA+ rights, by adopting the final Guidelines without delay. 
  • School infrastructure – Safe, inclusive infrastructure is vital for creating a conducive learning environment for children. We have been disappointed by the slow pace of infrastructure delivery to schools particularly in rural areas and by the blatant disregard by the DBE and provinces of deadlines and accountability mechanisms contained in the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure. The recently published amended Norms has stripped away the timelines within which basic school infrastructure must be provided and leaves the delivery of essential infrastructure open ended. Minister Gwarube, we implore you to protect the safety and dignity of learners and staff by ensuring that all schools urgently meet basic infrastructure standards – which includes the eradication of pit latrines, and the provision of safe and adequate sanitation, classrooms, and learning environments.  
  • Climate change – We urge Minister Gwarube to prioritise climate-proofing our schools and ECD sector, integrate climate considerations into education planning and ensure education sector resilience. This includes working toward climate-resilient school infrastructure, implementing disaster risk reduction measures, and implementing strategies for educational continuity and learner safety during times of crisis. We also call on the Minister to be a vocal supporter of the Climate Change Bill, embracing its principles in the education sector to create a more resilient and sustainable school system for all learners.  

While we are excited about potential positive changes, we also harbor some concerns: 

  • We caution against punitive approaches to school improvement. We hope the Minister priortises supporting underperforming schools rather than punishing them.  

We hope that Minister Gwarube will listen to and prioritise the voices and lived experiences of young people in South Africa. The EELC will continue to hold Minister Gwarube and the government accountable to ensure that all learners’ rights are respected, and that government does what is needed to ensure that education justice is achieved in our lifetime.  We look forward to working alongside her as we strive for equitable access to quality education for all learners.   


To arrange an interview: 

To arrange an interview, contact: Jay-Dee Booysen (EELC Media and Communications Specialist) jay-dee@eelawcentre.org.za 082 924 1352