The BELA Bill Marketing Campaign

Now that citizens have successfully been prevented from having any meaningful opportunity to read and comment on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, Minister Lesufi has had his marketing campaign underway.

Like any unscrupulous advertiser, he presented ‘serving suggestion’ pictures of the bill, without much regard for the actual ingredients. In line with the ongoing strategies of the current regime, blaming Apartheid and painting all opposition as racist, it seems that private gain and party political convenience are being promoted as Benefit To The People.

It is necessary to listen between the lines of what is said, to sleuth what is really going on. The idea that learners somehow stand to benefit from having class sizes increased from the already impossible forty to sixty or seventy (could you find that bit in the BELA Bill, by the way? Please let me know where?) could be the clue to the whole strategy. If fitting children into overcrowded schools were really the issue, he would encourage home-education instead of seeking to end it. Lesufi claims that home-educators drain his resources by demanding supervision, where the truth is they pay for legal defence to keep him out of their hair. Is all this really about education, and the paramount best interest of the child? Or is it about slashing budgets and optimising profits while pretending to govern a country?

More between the lines: while the campaign lambastes opponents for being segregationist and anti-language, the BELA Bill was published in… English and Afrikaans. Only. Millions of South Africans were linguistically denied their right to read the Bill. Does the department assume that everyone not fluent in English or Afrikaans will simply do what the government tells them, and therefore need no opportunity to participate? What an insult!

The marketing campaign claims that BELA will result in more African languages in schools. The evasively worded language provisions in the BELA Bill could just as easily be used to deny first-language education to true minority language learners who currently have it, as to make it more available to those who don’t. It all hinges on “effective utilisation of resources” aka, money.

Many children, parents and teachers complain that CAPS is one of the worst of all curricula, yet instead of fixing the problem, BELA aims to simply enforce compliance with CAPS through threatening to jail uncompromising parents. Let’s consider that the burglar who cleaned out your flat yet again last week may only get five years. But, in spite of your parental “prior right to choose the education given”, if you dare to rescue your child from the education system that international voices are calling one of the worst in the world (and that’s without considering bullying by peers and abusive teachers), you’ll be in line for six years in jail. (Yes, that is in the BELA Bill. Did Lesufi make sure you knew?)

But whom exactly is he planning to imprison? By spuriously claiming that home educators don’t socialise across racial lines, he is potentially setting up a line of propaganda to justify persecution of specifically ‘white’ families, working to vilify home educating ‘whites’ and inciting racial public hate, while diverting attention from the real issues.

For Minister Lesufi’s information, there are all ‘colours’ of children in home education, alternative education facilities are rainbow-hued and thriving, and everyone is actively socialising. It’s not about ‘not playing together’. It’s about getting the quality education he says he wants us all to have (but that he can’t provide), and getting time to play at all! And for our information, we wonder about the training in child-development and pedagogy that qualifies Lesufi for his role? All I can find on his public profile is that he’s a good ANC activist with an incomplete MBA?

The marketing campaign speaks about sending the best teachers to the poorest areas (again, I can’t seem to find that bit in the actual bill…) If the BELA Bill is truly about quality education for ALL, why does it not provide for matric curricula to be posted online for free so that all may study at no charge? Instead, BELA confines everyone to using the services of specific service providers at the parent’s cost (another part of the BELA Bill Lesufi tends not to dwell on) threatening to jail people for choosing instead from the world-class resources now available (many for free) on the world-wide web. Who stands to benefit here? Learners? Or those favoured service providers?

Is it possible I have misunderstood the BELA Bill and it is truly the breath of fresh air all this PR makes it out to be? Well, yes, I could have the wrong end of things because, let’s repeat: everyone most directly affected by the bill was given less than a month, during year end exams, to translate for ourselves into our home languages, read through the legalese, understand, discuss, and comment. Is that in any way inclusive and democratic? Does it reflect anything good about the attitude and intentions of those who want to see this bill steamrolled through?

No, Minister Lesufi, we do not accept your capitalist-style marketing campaign in lieu of our democratic, constitutional right to properly inform ourselves, respond, and be heard.

Those of us concerned about this bill are not ‘haters of transformation’ as you claim. We’re concerned that the ‘transformation’ you propose is at best, token and shallow, and at worst, an entrenchment of some of the worst practises of our Apartheid and colonial past. Why doesn’t the BELA Bill tackle the ongoing violence, sexual abuse and illegal corporal punishment in schools? Why doesn’t it attempt any progressive implementation of children’s rights, including the right to democratic participation by learners? Why doesn’t it deal with making education more child-friendly and effective? In what way does it progressively implement our constitution and the vision of the Freedom Charter? We want real transformation – the kind that results in an education worth having, and that supports the individual best interests of each and every child.

This is a democracy. Public comment is to be encouraged and welcomed, not ‘slammed’, and given ‘warnings’ through the media for ‘testing your patience’.

Reopen the period of public comment you worked so hard to quickly close, and publish ELEVEN language versions, along with properly worded simple-language explanations so that youth in your schools and out of them – the people most intimately affected – can also participate in this commentary process as is their legally enshrined right. Respect the constitution you say you want taught in schools. Give citizens time to really read what has been drafted, time to unpack, understand, and ask clarifying questions which must be accurately answered. After all, as Bongiwe Mhlongo from Concerned Young People of South Africa challenged you, why are you “rushing this bill past us?” Could we uncover that this Emperor wears no leopard skin, but rather, Versace underwear?

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