Friday 19 July

11 July 2024, Johannesburg – Civil society organisations SECTION27, the Equal Education Law Centre (“EELC”), the Legal Resources Centre (“LRC”) and Equal Education (“EE”) are extremely concerned about the Department of Basic Education’s (“DBE”) amended Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure (“School Infrastructure Regulations”). These Regulations, published in the Government Gazette on 27 June 2024, dilute critical obligations previously placed on the DBE and provincial education departments (“PEDs”) to make urgent and adequate provision for infrastructure at public schools. The amendments are a regressive measure that demonstrates a shift from ensuring equality in education, especially to Black learners and learners from rural and low-income areas.

These School Infrastructure Regulations, first published in 2013 after a hard-won victory secured by EE’s high school learner members, were specifically designed to provide a set of minimum standards for infrastructure that all public schools were required to adhere to in order to function safely and properly.

Although imperfect, the DBE’s initial 2013 School Infrastructure Regulations provided clear deadlines (November 2016, 2020, 2023 and 2030) indicating by when public schools had to be provided with basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, classrooms, toilets, and fencing, among others. It also required that all schools made of inappropriate materials like mud, asbestos, metal or wood be fixed by November 2016. These Regulations were therefore a powerful tool through which school communities could hold the DBE and PEDs accountable, particularly when they failed to meet these deadlines.  

On 28 May 2024, a day before the elections, the DBE published revised School Infrastructure Regulations, which removed most deadlines and merely obliged PEDs to submit detailed plans on the implementation of their infrastructure programmes 90 days after the beginning of the financial year, and “end of year evaluation reports” on the progress of their implementation programmes 60 days after the end of each financial year. Each of these reports were meant to be made available on the DBE and relevant PEDs websites for public access. While this signalled a clear dilution of responsibility, the revised School Infrastructure Regulations did include two important timeframes:

  1. All schools with no access to power supply, water supply or sanitation had to be addressed within 18 months of the publication of the regulations, and;
  2. All schools had to receive perimeter fencing within 12 months of the publication of the regulations.

In addition, the needs of schools with insufficient classrooms had to be addressed and reviewed annually.

These revised Regulations were withdrawn days later, with no formal justification publicly provided by the DBE. However, the DBE stated in a letter to the EELC that “the withdrawal of the document published by the DBE in the Government Gazette on 28 May 2024 was due to an administrative error, in that a wrong version was uploaded. Unfortunately, the process of re-gazetting the correct version had to comply with the Government Printing Works processes.”

On 27 June 2024, the DBE once again published revised School Infrastructure Regulations. Tragically, all deadlines by when the School Infrastructure Regulations must be met have now been removed. As seen in the first set of revisions, PEDs are merely obliged to ensure that school infrastructure projects are included in their plans within one year, that plans are published 90 days after the beginning of the financial year, and that “end of year evaluation reports” are published 60 days after the end of the financial year. The only exception remains that of schools with insufficient classrooms whose needs must be addressed and reviewed annually.

These revisions are wholly inadequate. They permit PEDs to use their own discretion to determine how school infrastructure projects should be prioritised, and by when they should be completed. This is extremely problematic given their lack of urgency in addressing infrastructure backlogs. According to the DBE’s most recent Education Facility Management data, dated August 2023, 728 schools still only use plain pit toilets, over 16 700 schools do not have libraries, and more than 18 600 schools still do not have science laboratories.  

Considering the severe infrastructure backlogs that continue to plague public schools, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, we are concerned that the revised School Infrastructure Regulations are retrogressive and will only exacerbate already-existing backlogs. It is therefore crucial that our new Minister for Basic Education, Minister Siviwe Gwarube, prioritise school infrastructure and urgently fix these Regulations, by providing clear and reasonable deadlines and ensuring that the DBE’s oversight role is highlighted and strengthened in them. Now, more than ever, civil society must also carefully monitor infrastructure progress at public schools and ensure that school infrastructure remains a priority for our new government if all learners are to learn in dignified and safe school environments.

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For media enquiries, please contact the following:

SECTION27:

Pearl Nicodemus

Email: nicodemus@section27.org.za

Cell: 082 298 2636

Equal Education Law Centre:

Jay-Dee Booysen (EELC Media and Communications Specialist)

Email: jay-dee@eelawcentre.org.za

Cell: 082 924 1352

Legal Resources Centre:

Kimal Harvey                          Kristen Abrahams

Email: kimal@lrc.org.za                      Email: kristen@lrc.org.za

Cell: 082 338 4118                              Cell: 083 854 1058

Equal Education:

Sesethu August (Equal Education Communications Officer)

Email: sesethu@equaleducation.org.za

WhatsApp: 083 890 8723

Call: 063 221 7983


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