DA to take government to court to keep schools open

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The Democratic Alliance (DA) says it is taking government to court over its decision to close schools as the country approaches a peak in COVID-19 infections.

President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement on Thursday evening, saying the decision to close schools for four weeks followed consultations with numerous stakeholders and was in line with recommendations of the World Health Organisation.

The world health body has previously warned countries against reopening schools while local transmissions of the coronavirus are on the rise.

The official opposition says the decision is irrational. It is political rather than scientifically motivated and “not in the best interests of South Africa’s 14 million schoolchildren.”

DA leader John Steenhuisen says: “The decision to close schools is rather a result of the ANC capitulating to all-powerful teachers’ unions, in particular SADTU, who do not have the best interests of learners at heart. In bowing to this threatening interest group – a crucial component of the ANC’s political support base – the ANC is trampling on children’s constitutional right to education, which recognises that education is fundamentally important to a child’s health, food security, future earnings and safety,” the party says.

Steenhuisen says they will approach the court on an urgent basis but will first await the government gazette the decision so that they can scrutinise the legislation used as a reason for this.

On the advise of the WHO, the party says the organisation doesn’t prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach to the issue. It says the WHO also has not always been consistent on what it advises.”So they don’t always get it right.”

Steenhuisen says government should have prepared for the peak during the hard lockdown.

One Movement Leader Mmusi Maimane welcomes government’s decision to close schools:

“Not only MAC advisors but also both the South African Paediatric Association and the American Association of Paediatricians have come out in strong support of schools being open. The latter cites “mounting evidence” that transmission of the coronavirus by young children is uncommon, partly because they are less likely to contract it in the first place. Governing body associations, NGOs and medical specialists have argued to keep schools open, but these arguments have been swept aside on a wave of political expediency,” the DA adds.

The DA reiterated its position that those parents who choose to keep their children out of school should be allowed to do so. “Staff members who choose to stay home must accept a salary cut. If this were the case, it is doubtful that unions would be calling so loudly for schools to close.”

“The cost of closing schools is profound and will be borne by children and families for many years. Many children will drop out of school never to return, and many more will fall so far behind that they are never able to catch up.

“The ANC has targeted the nation’s schools for closure even as taxis are allowed to operate at full capacity and gatherings of up to 50 adults are allowed for funerals and religious services. This is not science, it’s politics. Instead of an education and a bright future, the ANC is bequeathing our children debt, hunger, and ignorance. The DA will fight this every step of the way,” the party concludes.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) National Spokesperson Mkuleko Hlengwa also says the party does not agree with the manner in which government is dealing with schools during this time.

“There is fundamental contradiction in what the president has said given that on one hand he closes schools and yet keeps them open. We fundamentally believe that government has not taken the guidance or heeded the caution of the World Health Organisation that said that schools must only be re-opened once community transmission has been contained. This is not the case in South Africa, the President last night was not bold nor was he decisive on this important and life-threatening crisis.”

The Freedom Front says it is clear that government has yielded to the pressure of trade unions in making a decision to close schools for a month from Monday.

“A short break of two weeks should have been given to all the children and all the teachers after that all the schools that can comply to the health regulations should be allowed to be opened to all the grades and all the children because we must ensure that our children get educated for the rest of the year,” says Party leader Pieter Groenewald. – Additional reporting by SABC Radio News