Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education considered and adopted its report on the public hearings on the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill that were held in the Northern Cape. Opinion in the province over what has been described as a Schools Abortion Bill is sharply divided.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, the report tabled before the committee showed the sharp divisions over the BELA Bill in the Northern Cape with views in the province split down the middle.
The report reflected the tensions that boiled up around Clause 41 during the hearings that were held in Upington, Kuruman and Kimberley in early June. Clause 41 empowers the Minister to make regulations concerning the “management of learner pregnancy”. The ACDP and many members of the public have called this a hidden abortion clause that will empower the Minister to effectively make the current national “Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy” into law. The provincial education department, the ANC, and its allies such as SADTU, however support the bill and claim that the ACDP is misleading the public by calling this an abortion bill as the word abortion appears nowhere in the bill.
ACDP MP, Marie Sukers, responsible for the Northern Cape and who serves on the education portfolio committee, said, “I do not know if the ANC and its allies are naive or are trying to hide the facts from the public. If you want to poison someone you don’t write poison on the bottle, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t poison in the bottle. Do they really think people in the Northern Cape are that stupid?”.
The “Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy in Schools” states “The goal of this Policy is to reduce the incidence of learner pregnancy through the provision of quality CSE and access to adolescent and youth-friendly Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services. … To provide SRH services, including access to effective contraceptive technologies in association with social sector partners, to enable learners to make informed choices, avoid unintended pregnancies or, as necessary, to obtain abortions.”. The policy came into force in December 2021, but not many are aware of its existence. The Department of Basic Education, however, recently informed Parliament that the policy is in force and that no province can deviate from it.
Sukers says, “I can’t see how a clause, like Clause 41(aA) that wants to empower the Minister to make regulations on learner pregnancy is not going to involve making those regulations in terms of the national policy that is currently in force. That’s why despite all efforts to silence me I am going to call this a ‘School’s Abortion Bill..”
The Hon Mrs Sukers, however, claims the problem doesn’t end there; “The Bill goes a step further; the minister wants power to make anyone breaching the regulations guilty of a crime and subject to jail time or a fine or both. This is a nightmare scenario as the policy prohibits teachers telling parents that a learner is pregnant or is going for an abortion without the written consent of the learner. School governing bodies, principals, and educators are expected to ‘comply with and support the aims of this Policy and its implementation’. That means that those who in conscience cannot support learners being referred for abortions will either have to leave the sector or face criminal prosecution.”
Sukers, goes on to share another fear; “During the public hearings the MEC for Education, Zolile Monakali, stated that he ‘is not buying the story that teachers are impregnating learners’. the MEC does not seem to be aware that many learners are raped and impregnated by teachers in the Northern Cape, with in some cases one teacher impregnating many girls. The danger of the bill is that a teacher will be able to impregnate a learner and then refer the learner for an abortion to hide his crimes.”
“The ANC and its allies want to get this bill to pass at all costs. This is regrettable because their uncritical support for this Bill is dooming education in the Northern Cape.” Sukers goes on to explain, “Clause 27 of the Bill allows for the closure of public schools without reasons having to be given by the MEC. Up to one in five primary schools in the Northern Cape could be closed under this clause. However, many members of SADTU supported the bill without reservation. Clause 8 allows the sale of alcohol at schools, this is supported by the MEC because it is “for fundraising purposes”. Clause 37 allows for more regulation of home schooling, this in a province where home-schoolers struggle for over a year to get registered, and where despite instructions from the national department to a form joint liaison committee with home-schoolers nothing has been done in over two years.”
Sukers, concludes, “I do not believe that grass-roots ANC members, supporters and structures in the Northern Cape support the abortion, alcohol and school closure clauses in the BELA Bill. It was evident in the hearings that we were not hearing the voice of the people but rather the views of the leadership. It is the provincial and national leadership that are working to ram this bill through the portfolio committee. I call on the grass-roots ANC members and supporters to directly appeal to the ANC members in the portfolio committee to scrap these clauses. From the 15 August the committee will be debating the individual clauses and ANC members and supporters will see if their leadership is listening to them.”