It’s decided! Schools ‘will close again for three weeks’

Tholiwe Hlophe, left, and Skhumbuzo Mchunu - parents at Sobonakhona Secondary School at Umbumbulu in KwaZulu-Natal - disinfect a classroom.
Tholiwe Hlophe, left, and Skhumbuzo Mchunu - parents at Sobonakhona Secondary School at Umbumbulu in KwaZulu-Natal - disinfect a classroom.
Image: SANDILE NDLOVU

The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) is expected to recommend to cabinet that schools close for three weeks when it meets on Thursday.

This was confirmed by impeccable sources within the teacher unions who attended a meeting chaired by the deputy minister of basic education, Reginah Mhaule, on Wednesday night.

The NCCC will table the recommendation with cabinet on Thursday and either basic education minister  Angie Motshekga or President Cyril Ramaphosa will thereafter announce cabinet’s decision.

Motshekga did not attend the meeting as she was said to be too busy.

On Saturday, the five unions handed Motshekga a list of proposals which included that schools close immediately and only reopen at the end of next month.

The unions said that matrics should return on August 17.

The sources said that cabinet would finalise the matter on Thursday.

“What prevails now is three weeks on the table.”

The sources also said that the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMS) led by Cogta minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had recommended that schools close for two weeks. But the NCCC, which has more clout, preferred the three-week option.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mhaule and the education director general Mathanzima Mweli met governing body associations, a principals’ association and other stakeholders around midday. 

This afternoon meeting was followed by another meeting between Mhaule and five teacher unions on Wednesday night.

Paul Colditz, CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools, who attended the afternoon meeting, said: “It was a confidential [meeting] and we were requested not to share confidential information.”

Colditz said the cabinet would meet on Thursday and “will probably then make a final decision which will be announced by the president tomorrow”.

David de Korte, national president of the 3,000-strong South African Principals’ Association, who also attended the meeting, said they were sworn to secrecy.

“Unfortunately I can’t say anything.”

We were requested not to share confidential information
Paul Colditz, Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools

The other organisations that attended the meeting included the Governing Body Foundation, the Governors’ Alliance, the South African National Association for Specialised Education, and the Deaf Education Principals’ Association.

According to an impeccable source, a presentation by a subcommittee of the heads of education department committee (Hedcom), which met on Tuesday, said that schools should be shut.

The source said representatives of districts on the district coordinating monitoring and support committee “were virtually begging the unions to make sure the schools are shut so that we can get our act together”.

“We are being forced to do things and we don’t have the capacity in the provinces. That was the general view of district representatives,” the source said.

Last Saturday the five unions submitted a list of resolutions to Motshekga, calling for the immediate closure of schools until after Covid-19 infections had peaked.

They requested that schools reopen at the end of next month but that matrics should return on August 17.

The nation is quite divided on the issue of closing schools
Ben Machipi, Professional Educators’ Union

Meanwhile, the Professional Educators’ Union (PEU), representing 17,000 teachers, said in a communique before Wednesday night’s meeting that it had established that the unions were the last group of stakeholders to be consulted.

“The nation is quite divided on the issue of closing schools, with some SGB associations not in favour of the closure, backed up by many educational specialists and political commentators,” said PEU general secretary Ben Machipi.

He said the union understood that the minister and the cabinet would find it difficult “to get to the middle ground” based on reasons advanced by various role players.

“But we remain optimistic that the current spike of Covid-19 infections and the advice from the WHO [World Health Organisation] on the reopening of schools will prevail over any other intention.”

Machipi said that as the leadership “we will work round the clock to get the mandate [from members] of what next step is to be taken as soon as we get the announcement”.

Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA, said their argument was being deliberately misrepresented in public “to create the impression that we want schools shut”.

“We are saying we want them closed during the peak and we are not talking about another holiday.”

Said Manuel: “I would like to believe that given the collective wisdom in cabinet that they would see the reasonable nature of this request.”

He said that closing schools would give Motshekga time “to ensure that the provinces get their act together”.


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