JOHANNESBURG – The South African government’s decision to finally allow migrant children – including undocumented ones, to enroll with government schools, is a step in the right direction, but more work remains in forcing its implementation, say migrant community leaders.
After prodding and fighting from migrants’ rights group, the African Diaspora Forum, South Africa’s Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, revealed in her correspondence to the ADF that the department had directed public schools to provisionally allow undocumented migrant children to register pending their producing of the required documents within the legally prescribed three months.
School authorities should not expel even those pupils who cannot produce the required documents within the prescribed period, but assist their parents to obtain the documents, as required by South African law.
This week migrant community leaders welcomed the directive, but fears still abound that what is written on paper may not be what obtains on the ground.
ADF Chairman, Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda, who wrote to the government in February, culminating in the DBE directive, said although his organisation was happy with the positive outcome of its negotiations with government, it was still under no illusions about the heavy task that lay ahead in terms of its implementation.
“We have written to the DBE appreciating this effort, but we know that implementing this means monitoring and ensuring that prejudices of officers in schools do not continue to hound learners,” said Dr Sibanda.
“The biggest task now is to ensure that those that wrote matric in the past and never got their certificates are given their results, that we manage excuses of schools being full and learners too behind to be taken in, seeing that we are in the second term. This means that a lot of monitoring needs to take place even from us ADF, while we have no legislative mandate to do so, but through advancing the responsibilities of the organisation.
“We will work with parents and children that are affected, including schools, governing bodies, and the Department of Education to ensure that the learners are not victimised or compromised in all these processes.”
Patrick Ayuk, Director of the Sam Soya Center for Democracy and Human Rights, said his organisation, which promotes progressive democratic ideals, especially the rights of refugees and other migrants to basic education and other basic needs for survival, applauded the South African government for “this great step in the right direction”.
“The rights of access to basic education, especially by vulnerable children like those of refugees and other migrants, is a fundamental human right that is recognised and promoted by UNESCO through its Education For All (EFA) agenda,” said Mr Ayuk, who also identified some limitations on the rights of migrants in South Africa.
“While we applaud the South African government for putting basic measures in place to address some of the concerns raised by civil society organisations and other stakeholders on behalf of migrant children, we hope the government will do more to help undocumented parents of migrant learners to become documented themselves.”
Ngqabutho Mabhena, Chairperson of the Zimbabwean Community in South Africa, expressed hope that the new directive would address registration problems from 2019 going forward.
“We hope that after this directive, there will be no problems in registering Grade One pupils in 2019 and that there will be no problems for Grade 12s writing their Matric (National Senior Certificate) examinations in 2020 going forward, as previously, many could not write due to the fact that they did not have proper registration documents,” said Mabhena.
Future Msebele, Deputy Secretary for International Relations for Zimbabwe’s opposition ZAPU party, saw an empowerment tool for migrant children out of the DBE directive.
“This is a step in the right direction. It is every State’s duty to defend the rights of all children, whether they are refugees or not,” said Mr Msebele.
“The importance of education is not just practical. A well-educated, enlightened, active mind, able to wander freely and widely is one of the joys and rewards of human existence. Providing quality education to refugees is a fundamental way of empowering them and improving their social inclusion. This will help the children break the cycle of poverty and contribute positively to the South African society and to whole world.”