Lessons from public hearings in the Western Cape

Today, on the 21st of August 2018, I attended the public hearings about the Western Cape Provincial School Education Amendment Bill, with the purpose to learn how these hearings work, so that the homeschooling movement in South Africa can prepare for the moment when there will be public hearing on the Basic Education Law Amendment (BELA) Bill.

When we arrived at the building, there was a group of teacher union members toy-toying in front of the building. We had to enter the building with them, which caused us to be slightly late. It was however in a festive spirit and they made us feel like comrades. After going through security we were lead to the 7th floor where the chambers of the provincial legislature is. Although security did not allow attendees to bring in posters, some still managed to smuggle in a few.

The proceedings

Attendees were first allowed to raise points of order. There was one person that strongly objected to the fact that the public hearings were held during Muslim religious days, and this objection was noted.

The hearing then continued with senior officials from the Western Cape Education Department providing an overview of the legislative changes. With little passion, various head of departments discussed various parts of the act.

After the overview, objectors were provided the opportunity to present their oral testimonies. All testimonies were done by organizations such as ANC, SACP, Equal Education etc. Nobody spoke in an individual capacity.

The lines of arguments that were followed by the various speakers were as followed:

  1. The legislative changes are in conflict with other legislation. For example, it was highlighted several times that this provincial legislation is in conflict with national legislation.
  2. The legislative changes will have negative effects on individuals and communities.
  3. Some testimonies were mere political rhetoric with sweeping ideological statements (about colonialism, leafy suburbs, racism) , threats and personal attacks against Helen Zille and Debbie Schaefer. Statements like : "We are telling them to go to hell." This speech received a lot of support from the audience, but also a lot of laughter.
  4. The legislative changes do not address issues that are more important, such as safety.
  5. The legislative changes are based on flawed assumptions.
  6. There is no research that provides evidence that the legislative changes will have the intended effect.
  7. There is already existing legislation that adequately addresses the issues that the legislative changes claims to address.
  8. The legislative changes will cost a lot of money with no proven benefits to justify the costs. There is no room in the already constrained budget for these additional costs.
  9. The legislative changes are vague and will give the minister a lot of discretion without the possibility to be held accountable.
  10. No alternative solutions were proposed. All parties proposed that the law is scrapped.
  11. The legislative changes will only benefit the rich and not the poor.
  12. The drafting of the bill was done in a way that was not transparent and accountable.
  13. The bill is not worth the paper it is written on, but has cost a lot of money to compile. The costs of expensive consultants to compile the bill and the time of officials that assisted.
  14. There is no demand for the legislative changes from the public.
  15. The legislator attempts to fix things that are not broken.
  16. After the objectors finished their testimonies, members of the committee were allowed to speak. One member proposed that the committee takes the position that the bill is rejected. Another committee member proposed that this proposal cannot be considered until the process was completed. A third committee member described the drafting of the bill as a waste of money. A fourth committee member also proposes to reject the bill. Not one committee member spoke in favor of the bill.

The chairman closed the meeting by wishing the muslims in the meeting a blessed Eid.

Lessons learned

Submissions can be made on behalf of an organization or as an individual. In the opening of their testimony, organizations must introduce themselves and show who they represent and how big their support is. When the homeschooling movement makes submissions, there is no reason why a large number of homeschooling parents cannot make testimonies in their individual capacities.

Parties can hand in a written submission or / and request an opportunity to make an oral presentation. When making an oral testimony, there is no opportunity to display a PowerPoint presentation together with oral presentation. The power of your testimony will depend on your words only.

Some tips about attending the hearings and presenting oral testimonies

  1. Come early, because there might be unions or political parties that picket in front of the building and make it difficult to get into the chamber on time. If you are early, you can also choose a seat in the room where you can have eye contact with the committee members that must listen to the presentation.
  2. Do not forget to take proof of ID with you. This might be required by security.
  3. Prepare a speech that can effectively convey your most important points in 10 minutes. The homeschool movement can create opportunities for people that are going to make oral presentations to practice their presentation in front of an audience before the hearings.
  4. If the homeschool movement wants to convey multiple points, they should make multiple submissions that focus on the different points. Certain points can be conveyed by organizations and others by homeschooling parents in their individual capacities.
  5. The oral presentation will probably be done while seated and speaking through a microphone , and you might not have eye contact with your audience. Make sure that you sit close to the microphone, so that you can be heard. Multiple points can also be made by making some points at one hearing and other points at another hearing.
  6. The audience can show support for the speakers by applauding. It would therefore be good to pack the chamber with homeschoolers when the BELA Bill is discussed.
  7. It was clear that some speakers targeted their speech at the committee with strong arguments showing the flaws in the bill. Other speakers targeted the audience to get an applause from the audience, to show that their arguments have public support. When homeschoolers present at hearings, it is important to do both. There must be a lot of homeschoolers in the audience to applaud those speakers that target the audience. This has an important effect on the committee as well.