Friday 12 July

17 May 2024, Johannesburg – SECTION27 welcomes the National Assembly’s passing of the long-awaited Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill), which now awaits the President’s assent. The BELA Bill is a necessary piece of legislative reform that will align the current South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 (Schools Act) with developments in the education sector and case law coming from our courts. 

One of the key changes that the BELA Bill seeks to introduce is the strengthening of the Department of Education’s (DBE) oversight over language and admission policies that school governing bodies (SGBs) are 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 such as MEC for Education in Gauteng Province v Governing Body of Rivonia Primary Schoolbut 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 BELA Bill will also make several other progressive changes to the Schools Act, such as: 

  • Corporal punishment – the Bill offers 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.’ 
  • Admission of undocumented learners – the Bill clarifies that no learner may be denied admission to a school due to their failure to provide documentation (such as birth certificates or valid residence permits). 
  • Compulsory schooling – initially compulsory schooling only covered 7 to 15-year-olds. The Bill includes Grade R in compulsory basic education and asserts that the right to basic education extends to Grade 12.  

SECTION27 is disappointed that the BELA Bill increases the penalty imposed on parents who do not cause their children to attend school, which is an ineffective and potentially harmful method to increase learner attendance at school. We therefore urge that further education law reform address the issue. 

Overall, we believe the BELA Bill is a necessary and welcome change to education law in South Africa. We thus 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. 

For media enquiries contact:

SECTION27 | Pearl Nicodemus | | 082 298 2636


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