State or private schools? Where do our leaders send their children?
ATHANDIWE SABA, JACQUES PAUW and JEANNE VAN DER MERWE
That’s the overwhelming response from South Africa’s top elected leaders when asked if their children go to state or private schools.
Media24 Investigations sent questions to the President, Deputy President, 34 national Cabinet ministers, 33 deputy ministers, nine education MECs and 400 Members of Parliament asking them if they sent their children to private or public schools.
The only Cabinet minister who responded was embattled Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga – and she revealed that her child was educated in a private school.
Our questions were inspired by the national debate about the quality of public education in South Africa. Knowing where South Africa’s elected political leaders educated their children indicates their faith in the system for which they oversee policy and budgets and which is currently responsible for educating 12,2 million children.
But the the government’s spindoctors stepped in to stop ministers from replying to our questions.
The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) advised ministers and deputy-ministers not to respond.
“It is not a matter of public interest,” said the acting CEO of the GCIS, Phumla Williams, when asked why they had blocked responses.
Motshekga said her only son was in a private school, but later clarified this saying the child is a second-year student at the University of Johannesburg.
Motshegka has been Basic Education Minister since 2009. Before that she was Gauteng Education MEC.
Fourteen ministers formally refused to provide details of the schooling of their children after the advice by the GCIS and the rest simply didn’t bother to respond.
They were given more than three weeks to address our questions.
Media24 Investigations made it clear we would respect the privacy of the children and that the name of the institution they were being educated at could be offered voluntarily by the politicians.
Cosatu said this week it was “unfortunate” that the government did not want Cabinet members to reveal these details.
“The only conclusion I can make is that their kids are in private schools,” said Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven. “It shows that they don’t have much faith in their public institutions.”
“Our public schools should be of such a high standard that ministers would want their children to go there,” said Craven.
Institute of Accountability director Advocate Paul Hoffman said it was “ridiculous” for government to try and keep this information secret.
“Of course the public has a right to know,” he said. “Access and the right to information are enshrined in our Constitution.”
Doron Isaacs, co-ordinator of Equal Education, said political leaders were “hypocrites” for defending a system they themselves seemed to avoid. He called on political leaders to choose public schools for their children.
South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) general-secretary Mugwena Maluleke said that those who served the public should use public services. Sadtu did not believe in private education.
Media24 Investigations asked the ANC if ministers should come clean on where their children were educated.
ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza said the organisation was not approached about the issue and had not participated in the discussion.
Police minister Nathi Mthethwa said he had discussed the questionnaire with his legal team and that it was his “constitutional right” not to divulge any information.
Minister if the Presidency Collins Shabane said he didn’t understand why the information should be public.
President Jacob Zuma didn’t respond and Deputy-President Kgalema Motlanthe refused to participate.
Williams said government had “applied its mind” to the matter. The matter doesn’t fall within the “purview” of the state because the state doesn’t pay the school fees of minister’s and deputy-minister’s children.
Craven said that although public office bearers had a right to privacy, the public had a right to know how they regarded public institutions like schools and hospitals.
Derek Luyt, the media and advocacy head at the Public Service Accountability Monitor, said it was reasonable to know to what schools elected political officers send their children.
He cautioned that if politicians sent their children to private schools that this did not mean it was a blanket vote of no confidence in public schools.
*DOES your child go to school with the child of an elected political leader? With your help we will be able to establish the truth of where our leaders educate their children. Submit an anonymous tip-off using our online form.