The Conflux of Politics Law and Education
“A perspective on the rights of school children to participate in political activities”
By Mkhokeli Pino
The June 16 1976 Youth Uprising, initiated at Isaac Morrison High School, in Soweto Jabavu and led by inter alia Tsietsi Mashinini is credited with having shaped the socio-economic landscape of South Africa. 43 years later and some of the disturbing features of the current educational landscape include and are certainly not limited to the Pretoria Girls High incident of racist school rules that discriminate against black girl learners as well as the violent stabbing incident as Forrest High School where a learner is facing murder charges for allegedly having stabbed a fellow pupil to death. The proud display of the apartheid flag at Kimberley Boys High school Library is another such example.
According to stats SA, only 18,5% of first time voters have registered to vote. Stats SA goes on to say that there are 1.8 million young people between the ages of 18-19 eligible to vote, but only 341 186 of them have registered to do so. This I would contend can be attributed to the misinterpretation of Section 33A of the Schools Act and the discouragement of school children from engaging in politics, whereas it is through political activities that we have arrived where we have today.
In 1953 the then Apartheid Government introduced the Bantu Education Act. In so doing they introduced Afrikaans and English as compulsory mediums of instruction in township schools. It was however some 23 years thereafter that, the resistance, organization and preparedness of young people to register their dissatisfaction with the policy culminated in what is known today as June 16 Youth Uprising. It is important to note that, even prior to the Bantu Education Act, the apartheid government discriminated against black learners and enshrined inferior education for blacks as a fundamental element of their political strategy. In effect, June 16 was therefore about much more than Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, but more of a realization of the responsibility to self determine.
I do not intend on dwelling on the perception because they are well known and exist for a multiplicity of reasons. But by way of example; you will often hear parents say that they do not support the idea of politics in school or parents cautioning their children to focus solely on their education and stay away from politics if they want to be successful and stay out of trouble.
As a point of departure, formal politics refers to the operation of a constitutional system of government and publicly defined institutions and procedures. Many people view formal politics as something outside of themselves, but that can still affect their daily lives.
Our educational system is governed by legislation. The South African Schools Act was introduced in 1996. An interesting amendment was later introduced, in the form of Section 33A which provides as follows:
33A. Prohibition of political activities during school time
(1) No party-political activities may be conducted at a school during school time. The party-political activities contemplated in subsection (1) include, but are not limited to—
(a) campaigning; (b) the conducting of rallies; (c) the distribution of pamphlets and fliers; and (d) the hanging or putting up of posters and banners. (3) A member of a political party may not, for the purposes of conducting party-political activities, encroach on the school time. (4) A school may not allow the display of material of a party-political nature on its premises unless such party-political material is related to the curriculum at the school.
Two important aspects of this Section is firstly, that the section speaks of party political and therefore would only find resonance when dealing with specific political party activities. Secondly, the section relates to school hours only, and does not include the hours before or after school.
Immediately, you will realize that the perceptions that politics are not allowed in school, moves from the premise that this section actually prohibits each and every aspect of learners lives as school going children and not only when dealing with party political activities during school hours. I will now demonstrate that, not only is Section 33A an infringement on the learners’ rights in the school ground but more so the perception is in conflict with the learners constitutional rights as citizens outside the school ground as well.
The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and our constitutional democracy promotes the rule of law. All conduct which is inconsistent with the Constitution is invalid. It is on that basis that I submit that Section 33A of the South African Schools Act is inconsistent with the Constitutional right to freedom of expression, assembly and political rights which is afforded to each and every citizen.
Section 33A infringes on the rights of school learners generally between the ages of 14-18 to participate in the activities of, or recruit members for, and to campaign for a political party or cause.
The perception against politics in schools is the parental policy with which children are raised, it is the policy that is protected and promoted within the schools and society at large. This perception has morphed into an unintentional Constitutional coup d’état. Essentially the constitution has conferred all citizens’ rights to participate in politics, however the Schools Act has suppressed them within school hours, and parents and society as the architects of this perception have completely denied children this right and have preserved politics as a pastime reserved for adults.
It is understandable for a parent, to show an interest in the affairs, development, and the teaching that his or her child is receiving. It is also understandable that some parents hold the view that, politics are bad and or that they do not want their children to participate in politics. What cannot be justified however is denying young children a constitutionally guaranteed right. I submit that, the inclusion of politics in schools is not axiomatic to deteriorating education and areas of learning or violence. Instead, politics in education and at an early age can necessarily be used to shape the future, encourage active citizenry, to educate young people about the politics that determine almost every aspect of their daily lives. This is especially important when considering that when children turn 18 years old, they are then expected to make the important and necessary decision to vote for a party of their choice. Question is, is this a fair expectation when they have not learnt enough in their educational career as to the intricacies of South Africa’s politics?