Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga speaks to Grade 7 pupils during a visit to Funukukhanya Primary School at Tsakani in Ekhuruleni, Gauteng, to monitor reopening of schools to ensure compliance. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga speaks to Grade 7 pupils during a visit to Funukukhanya Primary School at Tsakani in Ekhuruleni, Gauteng, to monitor reopening of schools to ensure compliance. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to make an announcement on Thursday on the call by unions and student bodies to close schools until the current surge in coronavirus infections is curbed.

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga met governing body associations, a principals’ association and other stakeholders at midday on Wednesday, amid speculation that the government may close schools for two weeks.

Motshekga was due to meet the five teachers’ unions on Wednesday night.

Paul Colditz, CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools, who attended the meeting, said: “It was confidential [the meeting] and we were requested not to share confidential information.”

Colditz said the cabinet would meet on Thursday and “will probably then make a final decision which will be announced by the president tomorrow”.

David de Korte, national president of the 3,000-strong SA Principals’ Association, who also attended the meeting, said they were sworn to secrecy.

Some of the other organisations that attended the meeting included the Governing Body Foundation, Governors’ Alliance, the SA National Association for Specialised Education and the Deaf Education Principals Association. The National Association of School Governing Bodies, which represents about 9,000 governing body associations of predominantly no-fee paying schools, also attended the meeting.

According to a source, a presentation by a subcommittee of the heads of education department committee, which met on Tuesday, said that schools should be shut.

The source said representatives of districts on the district co-ordinating, monitoring and support committee “were virtually begging the unions to make sure the schools are shut so that we can get our act together”.

“We are being forced to do things and we don’t have the capacity in the provinces. That was the general view of district representatives,” the source said.

Last Saturday, the five unions submitted a list of resolutions to Motshekga, calling for the immediate closure of schools until after Covid-19 infections had peaked. They requested that schools reopen at the end of next month but that matrics should return on August 17.

Meanwhile, the Professional Educators’ Union (PEU), representing 17,000 teachers, said in a communique before Wednesday night’s meeting that it had established that the unions were the last group of stakeholders to be consulted by Motshekga.

“The nation is quite divided on the issue of closing schools, with some SGB associations not in favour of the closure, backed up  many educational specialists and political commentators,” said PEU general secretary Ben Machipi.

He said the union understood that the minister and the cabinet would find it difficult “to get to the middle ground” based on reasons advanced by various role players.

“But we remain optimistic that the current spike of Covid-19 infections and the advice from the WHO [World Health Organisation] on the reopening of schools will prevail over any other intention.”

Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA, said: “We are saying we want them (schools) closed during the peak and we are not talking about another holiday. I would like to believe that given the collective wisdom in the cabinet that they would see the reasonable nature of this request.

Manuel said that closing schools would give Motshekga time “to ensure that the provinces get their act together”.

govenderp@sundaytimes.co.za

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