Non-profit organisations back signing of BELA Bill

South Africa - Cape Town - 4 April 2024 - ACDP to picket against BELA Bill ahead of public hearings outside the Provincial Legislature. Photographer: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

South Africa - Cape Town - 4 April 2024 - ACDP to picket against BELA Bill ahead of public hearings outside the Provincial Legislature. Photographer: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

Published May 18, 2024


Even though some sectors have accused the governing ANC party of forging ahead with disastrous legislation as a ploy to garner support ahead of the upcoming elections, some civil society organisations have given their support as a much-needed transformation step for the country.

As political parties such as the DA, Freedom Front Plus, alongside civil society and trade unions such as AfriForum, Solidarity and Cape Forum have all blasted the governing party for moving forward in passing legislation despite concerns raised by stakeholders, others have welcomed the recent development as a necessary step.

That includes Section27, which announced that it welcomed the National Assembly's passing of the long-awaited Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill), which now awaits the President’s assent.

According to the organisation, the BELA Bill was a necessary piece of legislative reform that would align the current South African Schools Act, 84 of 1996, with developments in the education sector and case law coming from the country’s courts.

In fact, they highlighted that one of the key changes that the bill sought to introduce was the strengthening of the Department of Education's (DBE) oversight over language and admission policies that school governing bodies (SGBs) were mandated to develop.

“There has been strong conservative opposition to this, but these changes will not only align the Schools Act with Constitutional Court cases, but it will also ensure wider access to the right to basic education and address past inequalities that have stubbornly lingered in South Africa’s education system through discriminatory SGB policies.”

The organisation added that the passing of the BELA Bill through the National Assembly was crucial as it also made several other progressive changes to the Schools Act, such as dealing with corporal punishment, offering an expansive definition of corporal punishment to include “any acts which seek to belittle, humiliate, threaten, induce fear or ridicule the dignity and person of a learner”.

Furthermore, it also addresses the admission of undocumented learners, as moving forward, no learner may be denied admission to a school due to their failure to provide documentation such as birth certificates or valid residence permits.

Another benefit they cited was that while previously, compulsory schooling only covered 7- to 15-year olds, the new amendments would include making Grade R compulsory and extending it to Grade 12.

Despite giving the bill the green light, the organisation did stress that they were disappointed that it increased the penalty imposed on parents who did not cause their children to attend school, given that they held the view that this was an ineffective and potentially harmful method of increasing learner attendance at school.

Even with this, they remained adamant that the bill remained a necessary and welcome change to education law in South Africa.

“We therefore urge that further education law reform address the issue of criminalisation of parents. Overall, however, we strongly encourage the President to sign the BELA Bill as soon as possible so that the progressive changes to the Schools Act can be implemented without delay.”

Saturday Star

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