Six-Year-Olds Trapped in Political Chess Game

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Jul 5 12:23:30 UTC 2005

>>From AllAfrica Global Media (

Six-Year-Olds Trapped in Political Chess Game

Sunday Times (Johannesburg)
July 3, 2005
Posted to the web July 4, 2005

By Rowan Philp and Jeanne Van Der Merwe

GRANT du Preez spent the first six months of his school life in limbo - at
the centre of a brewing national political storm. The six-year-old doesn't
understand a word said in assembly, is not supposed to pay school fees or
wear a uniform, and attends classes in a tiny L-shaped room at a school he
knows wants him out. Du Preez is one of 18 English-speaking Grade 1 pupils
whom Mikro, an all-Afrikaans primary school in the Western Cape, was
forced to enrol this year, after local Education MEC Cameron Dugmore
decided to invoke the Constitution.

His mother, Julia du Preez, said: "My son and these other kids are pawns
in this big battle that has nothing to do with us." Following a Supreme
Court of Appeal judgment this week, Dugmore must move Du Preez and his 17
classmates to another school next year. Louis Smuts, head of the Afrikaans
schools union Tabok, said other schools around the country, "under threat"
of having to start teaching classes in English, had reacted to the
judgment by launching a legal fund (with a target of R15-million) to fight
the government on behalf of at least 196 schools.

In the Northern Cape, Seodin Primary, Kalahari High, and the Hor
Landbouskool Noord-Kaapland are awaiting a High Court judgment in an
appeal against government orders for them to teach in English after
English pupils were enrolled there. The battles hinge on two laws. One is
the constitutional right of pupils to learn in the language of their
choice. A school must introduce a language when 40 or more children who
speak it enrol in the same grade.  The other is the South African Schools
Act, which says governing bodies can decide their own language policies.

In an affidavit to court, the parents - all of whom are black - claimed
that Mikro's resistance to their children's enrolment was "discrimination
on the grounds of race". But Ryan van Zyl, deputy chairman of the
governing body, denied this, saying: "Those children have been 100%
included. There has been no unpleasant event. This judgment is a victory
for all schools, of all languages."

Dugmore defended his department's actions, saying they were never intended
as an attack on the school's Afrikaans language policy. "There had been
significant growth in the area... which had led to more demand for tuition
in English. We were not able to build an additional school, therefore we
had to look at accommodating the children in existing schools," he said.
National Education Minister Naledi Pandor said on Friday she realised many
communities wanted children to be taught in their mother tongue, and "if
we have a situation where communities have mixed languages, it is
sometimes difficult to have schools teaching in a single medium".

"In such cases we look at a co-operative approach, where the government,
governing bodies and parents work together in the interests of the
children," she said. "We have to establish why the Western Cape Education
Department failed to follow due process," said Pandor. The department
would look at a "mechanism" to accommodate children with different
language needs, she said.

Pandor added that she still had to study the judgment and intended
speaking to Dugmore. The Western Cape Education Department has until July
18 to decide whether to appeal to the Constitutional Court. Paul Colditz,
chairman of the Federation of South African School Governing Bodies, said
Dugmore's actions spoke of "total ignorance of the laws in place" and "an
obsession with power we last saw before 1994".

Helen Zille, Democratic Alliance MP and a former Western Cape Education
MEC, said only 3% of schools in the country remained Afrikaans-only and
"the Education Department cannot shift the responsibility onto those
schools to solve the accommodation problems". On December 2 last year
Dugmore ordered Mikro to enrol 40 English-speaking pupils for the new
year. Two weeks later Mikro's attorneys appealed against the department's
order.  On January 19, Dugmore dismissed the appeal. That day officials
arrived at Mikro to enrol 21 of the 40 pupils.

The next day Mikro launched an urgent application in the Cape High Court,
asking for the department's order to be overturned and the children's
enrolment to be stopped. The Cape High Court found in favour of Mikro,
lambasting Dugmore and his officials for "summarily riding roughshod over
the school's language policy". The court ordered that the children not
remain at the school longer than the end of 2005. Dugmore then appealed to
the Supreme Court of Appeal, but lost.


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