One South Africa Movement (OSA) leader Mmusi Maimane has given President Cyril Ramaphosa until Wednesday (27 May) at 14h00 to provide the rationale for the decision to reopen schools on 1 June.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga first announced the decision last week and Ramaphosa alluded to it in his address to the nation on Sunday.
Motshekga said the phased-in approach, which would see grades 7 and 12 starting first, had been approved by the National Command Council (NCC) and Cabinet following consultations with stakeholders.
In a letter to Ramaphosa on Monday, Maimane said, “Therefore, I formally request the record of decision to approve the Ministry’s plan to reopen schools on 1 June, 2020. This includes the rationale behind such decision and all information relied upon in the process.
“To this end, I request this information by 14h00 on Wednesday, 27 May, failing which we will consider our legal options in this regard.”
Maimane said the decision is “premature and poses a risk” to all students, teachers and support staff. He cited the rising COVID-19 cases, which surpassed 22,000 on Sunday, as a major factor.
“We therefore propose a three-month extension on school closure to allow every school sufficient time to implement a “Roadmap to Reopening” – a checklist of prerequisites that must be satisfied before any school is declared safe to reopen,” he added.
156,000 sign petition
In his address on Sunday, Ramaphosa said the government was concerned that “an entire generation of learners should not be permanently disadvantaged by this pandemic.”
He emphasised that the “cautious” reopening of schools is guided by medical advice, adding, “Strict infection control measures and, where necessary, additional water and sanitation infrastructure are being put in place to enable social distancing, regular hand washing and learner safety.”
However, Maimane said the decision is “contradictory” because high-risk facilities, such as churches, cinemas and restaurants, will remain shut under level 3 while schools, which he claimed could have up to 300 learners per grade, reopen.
He added that over 156,000 concerned South Africans had signed an online petition he launched last week calling for a postponement of the reopening of schools.
The ex-opposition leader said, “It is on their behalf that we are requesting the reasons, rationale and information relied upon in deciding to approve the reopening of schools on 1 June, 2020.
“I want to implore you as Chair of NCC to consider this as a matter of national importance. It is our young children who are at risk here. If the NCC was persuaded by just 2,000 public objections to the sale of tobacco products, 156,000 public objections to the premature reopening of schools on 1 June, 2020 simply cannot be ignored.”
Besides Maimane’s legal threat, the Educators Union of SA (EUSA) said on Sunday that it would launch an urgent court application against the Department of Basic Education.
EUSA General Secretary Siphiwe Mpungose said, “We totally reject the use of teachers and learners as guinea pigs used to test against an invisible enemy. We reject, as EUSA, the gambling with the lives of the future of our country.”