What are your rights?

Section 29(1) of the Constitution says that “everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education.” Basic education means schools where it is possible to learn and acquire knowledge, with enough teachers, educational resources and in an environment that encourages learning.

Government’s duties

In terms of the Constitution providing “education at all levels, excluding tertiary education” is a duty of national and provincial government. Local government is only given responsibility for the provision of child care facilities. Local government has no direct powers over schools, other than responsibility for much of the environment in which they are situated. However this does not mean that there is nothing that can be done about schools in our communities.

Apart from the Constitution, the two laws that govern the duty to provide basic education are the South African Schools Act (SASA) and the National Education Policy Act (NEPA). In terms of the SASA:

  • Schooling is compulsory between the ages of 7 and 15 (section 3(1)). This is to ensure that all learners are guaranteed access to quality learning.
  • The Provincial Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for education must provide public schools for the education of learners “out of funds appropriated for this purpose by the provincial legislature.” (Section 12 (1) )
  • "... the provision of public schools ... may include the provision of hostels for the residential accommodation of learners."
  • "... a public school may be an ordinary public school or a public school for learners with special education needs."

Do we have to pay fees for schools?
The government has a responsibility to meet the needs of everyone for basic education. In 2011 it announced that in future schools will be designated as either “fee-paying” or “non fee-paying” schools depending on the ability of parents in a community to afford fees. If you cannot afford fees you should not have to pay anything. But this should not affect the quality of your or your child’s education.

Schools must have water, electricity and sanitation!
Schools are situated within our communities. Their success depends on other factors which are the responsibility of local government, including public transport, access to water and sanitation and safety. The right of children to basic education therefore reinforces local government’s responsibility to fulfil these rights.
According to the Constitution local government is meant to promote social and economic development. A municipality is supposed to “structure and manage its administration and budgeting and planning processes to give priority to the basic needs of the community, and to promote the social and economic development of the community.” These basic needs include basic education!
It is therefore disturbing that many schools in South Africa, primarily those in rural areas, lack these basic resources, such as libraries, which are essential for children’s development.
In terms of the Constitution rights to healthcare services, water and sanitation are linked to the availability of resources. However, activists should argue that in the context of the right to basic education, these services are non-negotiables when it comes to their existence within schools!

Insisting on proper facilities

In 2010 seven primary schools in rural areas of the Eastern Cape got together to bring a court case to demand that the government provide their schools with proper facilities, including toilets, water, proper classrooms. They approached a public interest organisation called the Legal Resources Centre (LRC). As a result of their court case the government entered in to a settlement agreeing to spend billions of rand on these schools and other “Mud schools” in the Eastern Cape. Partly as a result of the publicity created by this case, in June 2011, the National Department of Basic Education took over the running of schools in the Eastern Cape.