Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. Picture: GCIS
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. Picture: GCIS

Just when you think venal and myopic officials have run away with SA’s democracy, a judge steps in to restore sanity. In this case, judge Selby Mbenenge ruled last week in the high court in Makhanda that all children, regardless of their immigration status, must be allowed to attend school.

It seems a no-brainer. But it certainly wasn’t to department of basic education officials, who went to court to prevent 37 undocumented children, many of them orphans, from attending school.

The battle showed that as much as we expect our officials to have an affinity for democracy and the constitution, that’s often overly optimistic. That minister of basic education Angie Motshekga spent two years fighting to keep the children out of school is an indictment of her tenure. Perhaps the most outrageous sentiment came from Mkuseli Apleni, the former director-general of the department of home affairs, who described these children as "fraudulent learners".

Apleni had boasted how weeding out these learners had led to a "saving of R1.46bn". Given that some of the children were as young as six, it was as insensitive a comment as they come.

And it cut little ice with the judge, who ruled that the department was acting unconstitutionally. That it takes a judge to point this out, after two years in court, is a disgrace.