SPII Talk II: Dr. Nqobile Zulu, Research Manager

SPII Talk II: Dr. Nqobile Zulu, Research Manager

Active citizenry: The School Governing Body (SGB) dilemma under Covid-19 conditions

The South African Schools Act 1996 (Act 84 of 1996) (SASA) stipulates that a School Governing Board (SGB) must be elected every three years. It must:” Promote the best interest of the school and ensure its development. Adopt a constitution setting out how the SGB will operate. ... Encourage parents, learners, educators and other staff members at the school, to offer voluntary services to the school…”

The Picture at present
Frequently, SGB elections have been postponed only to be reconvened because there was a lack of a quorum. For those parents who view these processes as a way of fulfilling their rights and obligations as active participants in their children’s school’s functioning, the postponement leads to much discontent and disruption of their busy lives.

In light of the Covid19 pandemic, what effect would attempts at facilitating the process of elections entail under Covid19 induced conditions?   Would these electronic online processes meet the reasonable and fairness test? The challenging aspect of the SGB convening, running and facilitating the democratic governance function has not only reflected the inequality of the country but marginalised even those new parents seeking to engage and participate in the democratic functions of the SGB.

If for example one takes the issue of elections, the fact that election campaigns had to be held in virtual platforms, in an anonymous Gauteng school, meant that those parents struggling with technological challenges were excluded from not only campaigning but viewing the different pitches for votes, made by the different candidates. That alone makes elections process problematic while the denial of last minute candidate decision voting choices also served to marginalise undecided voters who would have made their choice from listening to the final pitch that normally happens when the platform is made available on the day of the elections at the school.
Thus, this begs the question then of the representativeness of the election outcome. How representative are the selected members of the SGB in the Covid19 induced election process? Do the elected members represent the majority, democratically elected members of the parents that have children attending the particular school or it’s a
case of resource access, in this case technology, trumping democratic, fair voting processes.To what extent are the SGB Covid- 19 election results reflective of active choice by parents in the schools attended by their children?

The argument from the schools will be that the tally of voting ballot papers would have proven to meet the minimum requirements set by the Department of Basic Education on the constitution of these elections.

In speaking to public participation, asking these questions is important in that it allows for an interrogation of the fairness of processes in encouraging parental engagement in decision making that decides critical issues like school fees among other issues. As these bodies have power and authority by virtue of the Constitutional mandate vested in them, by the  School’s Act, the implications are dire if only a select group of people enabled by resource access and ability are able to ‘capture’ the seats in the SGB and then effectively set the tempo for how the school is run.

This would effectively exclude those members of the school parents’ constituency without the means nor the access to such resources having a fair say in the governance and running of the school which their children attend. Yet continuing with the old committee elected from the previous dispensation would be flouting the regulations that dictate the holding of elections every three years.

Concluding remarks
Thus despite all the talk of democratic processes being observed to the spirit and letter of the law, the takeaway from this discussion is that the SGB election process is unfair and exclusionary in its form in some of these spaces. The effects of the pandemic have added significantly to that exclusionary nature thereby leading to rule by resource access and technological ability.

With the high cost of data in the country, not many households can and do have the luxury of participating in online polls even if its to select school governing officials.Those able to might not be the most affected by fees increase for example leading to this privileged group making decisions on behalf of the school that impact negatively those who are not as resourced. Sadly, if the voting quorum is met then the spirit of the law has been served and the results of the elections stand. Active citizenry with a twist!
Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute's Research Manager, Dr. Nqobile Zulu