Not since the 1980s has South Africa seen a youth movement as focused, politicized, and determined as the current one. Then the struggle for equal education was against a system of enforced inequality in education, today the struggle is centered on reversing the effects of that inequality and rebuilding a once thwarted system. Last year, Equal Education for All focused on raising the standards of basic infrastructure while tackling widespread student and teacher late-coming in Cape Town.
This year the campaign has mushroomed into a nationwide learner-led campaign of civic action focusing on the still vast inequalities in South African education and the fact that only 8% of schools have libraries. Most of these schools are the ones that benefited from the inequitable distribution of education resources under apartheid. The School Libraries Campaign insists that One School, One Library, One Librarian is an attainable goal, and a non-negotiable right.
Through a vast and well-organized network of learner advocates, Equal Education is mobilized to march, pamphlet, and rally all over the country. Learner advocates meet in civic centers and school playgrounds, and compound their networking and mobilization cohesiveness through a serious of leadership camps with partner organizations. But Equal Education’s success in the past with bringing awareness to the shocking state of school infrastructure and endemic late coming last year was not solely because of mass action.
Equal Education works with academics, researchers, lawyers, and politicians to back up their demands with feasible and practical solutions that are affordable within current department of education budgets. The South African government has argued that One Library, One School, One Librarian is not a financially viable option. Equal Education for All has countered this with statistics insisting that the project to provide every South African school with a working library would cost between 1 and 2% of the national education budget. They are prepared to use creative litigation to force the department of education to address their demands.
It is this combination of informed mass civic action that has earned the learner stakeholders of Equal Education the attention of the South African public, parliament, and educational policy makers around the world. The work is ongoing, the project is vital, and marches are organized around the country to garner public and government attention on March 21. In Cape Town the march will end at the houses of parliament, while in Pretoria, despite some mixed messages from the government, the march will culminate at the Union Buildings.