On Tuesday November 20, 2012 South Africa’s Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, was meant to be in court. Instead, Equal Education, an organization advocating for quality and equality in the South African education system, secured a crucial victory in the campaign for minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure in South Africa. In an out of court settlement, recorded by the Court, concluded in person between the Equal Education leadership and legal team and Minister Motshekga in Pretoria, Minister Motshekga agreed to work on regulations to create binding minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure.
There will be no “Fix Our Schools” camp by over a hundred pupils, teachers and parents outside the Bhisho High Court in the Eastern Cape Province, no pickets saying “Angie fix our schools” or “Rainbow nation, there’s rain in my classroom!”, no journalists, no photographs. The changes stipulate minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure at a national level that covers essentials such as classroom sizes, sanitation, fencing, windows, ventilation and electricity. By order of the court, norms and standards for school infrastructure will be published for comment by mid-January 2013 and adopted by mid-May 2013. This is a galvanising early victory to spur on a campaign that will have to be won in thousands of schools across South Africa to improve basic infrastructure.
Equal Education is a membership-based grassroots movement of learners, parents, teachers and community members. Equal Education campaigns for equality in South African education and improving education quality in township schools. Membership is mostly in the Western Cape where the movement began but is also growing rapidly in other townships around the country. A grantee and close partner of Open Society Foundations since their inception four years ago, Equal Education describe the latest development as “an historic victory for Equal Education and our members, the thousands of people who stood behind us, and the millions of South African children who stand to benefit from better school infrastructure.”
Equal Education’s “Fix Our Schools” campaign is high energy and hugely inventive: In their last march in late October, thousands of pupils wore Angie Motshekga face masks, Equal Education is active on talk radio shows, has addressed public meetings, visited other schools and has convinced parents and teachers to join them. As well as placing adverts in national newspapers and building a mock mud school outside parliament, the campaign has developed the skills and confidence of many young South Africans. The video “Build the Future” (see above) which explains the campaign to “South Africa and the world” attracted over 10,000 views in five days. Supporters can join Equal Education’s virtual picket here and visit the Equal Education website for more detail on the campaign.
So while the Bhisho streets may be quiet this week, Equal Education will be back and very noisy if Minister Motshekga does not fulfil her obligations by early next year. The campaign for equal education in South Africa has a long way to go yet. Important victories like this one are sure to provide strength and encouragement for the challenges that must be overcome before democracy will have meaning for most young people in South Africa.