DA maintains strong opposition as BELA Bill leaves Select Committee

Issued by Delmaine Christians MP – DA NCOP Spokesperson on Education
02 May 2024 in News

The DA continues to stand firm in its opposition to the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill as it exits the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts, and Culture.

Despite eight of the nine provinces supporting the Bill, with the Western Cape being the only province to reject the Bill, our position remains clear and resolute: the BELA Bill, even with the recent amendments, poses significant threats to the autonomy of schools and communities across South Africa.

While some adjustments have been made in response to committee deliberations, these are minor in scope and fail to address the core concerns raised by various stakeholders and the Western Cape Provincial Parliament’s Standing Committee on Education. The Bill continues to centralise power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats, undermining the crucial role of parents, educators, and local governing bodies in shaping the educational future of their communities.

Key issues persist, such as:

  • Centralisation of Authority: The Bill hands extensive decision-making power to the heads of provincial Basic Education Departments, diminishing the role of school governing bodies (SGBs) and local communities in determining language and admissions policies.
  • Fiscal Impact: Implementation of the Bill remains unfunded and could lead to a multi-billion-rand burden on provincial budgets, jeopardising other vital programs like the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) and learner transport.
  • Restrictions on Home-Schooling: Clause 35 of the Bill still imposes excessive regulatory burdens on parents who choose to homeschool, limiting their choice and autonomy.
  • Lack of Comprehensive Public Participation: Despite the high volume of submissions, many public concerns remain unaddressed in the final report, revealing a lack of meaningful engagement with stakeholders.

The Select Committee’s handling of the Bill raises further reservations, including a rushed process and limited transparency in decision-making, which hindered thorough consideration of the Bill’s far-reaching impact.

As the BELA Bill progresses to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and potentially back to the National Assembly (NA), the Bill will be reviewed by the Basic Education NA Committee and then to the NA House for a vote. Should the NA ratify the amended version, the Bill will be sent to the President for assent.

If the NA rejects the NCOP’s amendments, the Bill will be directed to a mediation committee, which must address it within 30 days of receipt. However, it’s important to note the concerning reality that a mediation committee has never been established, leading to Bills lingering in limbo indefinitely. This procedural void raises questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of our legislative process and whether this Bill will be trapped in an unresolved status for an extended period.

If the NA approves the Bill as amended, it will move to the President for assent. The President may either sign it into law or, if there are constitutional concerns, refer it back to the NA for reconsideration. If the NA returns the Bill to him unchanged, and he still finds the Bill constitutionally questionable, the President must refer the matter to the Constitutional Court for a thorough examination of either portions of the Bill or the Bill in its entirety. This process underlines the critical nature of ensuring legislation aligns with constitutional principles and public interest.

The DA remains committed to challenging the BELA Bill in its current form. Once the NA passes the Bill for assent after it has been processed by the NCOP, we will take proactive measures to safeguard South Africa’s education system. We plan to formally request the President to refer the Bill back to Parliament for reconsideration or, if necessary, to the Constitutional Court. Should the President sign the Bill into law without addressing our concerns, the DA will immediately pursue legal action to challenge the constitutionality of the Bill in court. This approach ensures that we uphold our commitment to defending the rights and interests of all South Africans in education.

The DA reaffirms its commitment to defending the rights of parents, educators, and learners, and to pursuing education reform that prioritises quality, safety, and access for all South Africans. We will persist in our efforts to ensure that legislation serves the best interests of our nation’s students and education system.