What is BELA Bill and why are people concerned about it?

The BELA Bill is in the spotlight as sessions and public hearings are being held over the matter. File picture: Pexels

The BELA Bill is in the spotlight as sessions and public hearings are being held over the matter. File picture: Pexels

Published Feb 27, 2024


The Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill is in the spotlight as sessions and public hearings are being held over the matter.

The bill seeks to amend key education laws in South Africa and has sparked controversy and drawn criticism from various quarters.

What is the BELA Bill?

The BELA Bill proposes significant amendments to the South African Schools Act (SASA) of 1996 and the Educators Employment Act of 1998.

These are the amendments that are expected to be made:

– Making Grade R Compulsory: The BELA Bill proposes to make Grade R the compulsory start of school. Grade R, which currently forms part of early childhood development (ECD), will expand to 7,888 schools under the new mandate.

– Criminalising parental negligence in school attendance: In addition to making Grade R compulsory, the bill seeks to criminalise parents who fail to ensure their children attend school, with potential jail time as a consequence. It also states that anyone disrupting school activities is liable to a maximum of 12 months in prison.

– Home education regulation: The amendment allows the department head to conduct site visits before registering home education. It enables the minister of basic education to regulate the registration and administration of home education, acknowledging the preference of some parents for home-schooling over public schooling.

– Language policy in schools: The amendment requires school governing bodies to submit their language policies for approval. These policies must consider the linguistic needs of the broader community.

– Accommodating religion in school codes of conduct: The bill proposes that school codes of conduct respect cultural and religious beliefs, including provisions for students to seek exemptions from certain code requirements.

– Ban on corporal punishment: The bill reaffirms the prohibition of corporal punishment in schools, proposing fines or imprisonment for those who administer it.

Why is concern mounting?

Critics of the bill including members of the Democratic Alliance (DA), argue that the BELA Bill undermines the authority of school governing bodies (SGBs) and centralises decision-making power.

The DA along with the Freedom Front Plus have indicated that they intend to challenge the bill if it is passed.

Critics point to provisions that could disempower SGBs in determining admission and language policies, and will instead favour the intervention of provincial education authorities.

One of the most contentious aspects of the bill is the proposal to make Grade R compulsory, a move that has drawn both support and opposition.

The Department of Basic Education estimates that implementing this provision would require a staggering R16 billion, with concerns raised about potential cuts to other essential programs.

In addition to that, R12 billion would be needed for infrastructure and up to R4 billion for staffing.

Concerns were raised about the lack of detailed information provided to the public, with many attendees expressing frustration over ambiguous clauses in the bill.

People said the bill may infringe on parental rights, particularly regarding home-schooling.

Opponents of the bill also criticised its potential impact on minority languages and cultural rights. They argued that the proposed language policies could marginalise linguistic minorities and undermine their heritage.

What do the supporters of the bill say?

While the bill was slammed, there were also supporters of the BELA Bill, including members of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who defended its provisions.

They emphasised the importance of compulsory education and the need to hold parents accountable for their children's attendance.