AfriForum is concerned about an advertisement of the Gauteng Department of Education that invites unemployed youths between the ages of 18 and 35 to apply for the opportunity to be trained as members of so-called COVID-19 school brigades. According to the advertisement, members of the brigades will be deployed in schools to support the Department in performing certain tasks. It isn’t mentioned whether schools will have any say in the deployment.
AfriForum is of the opinion that the specific role and powers of the brigades are not clearly defined. “It would have made more sense if the Department had discussions with schools so that schools can decide for themselves whether they want to use these brigades. Many schools enjoy active parental and community involvement and the duties of such an additional role can easily be filled from within the community itself,” says Henk Maree, spokesperson for AfriForum.
Additional causes for concern include:
- Security forces such as the SANDF and the SAPS, who are supposed to be well trained in managing crises like these, are currently widely criticised for their poor and unfit actions after various incidents. This raises the question of how a few weeks of training could prepare members of these brigades adequately to not overstep their authority ‒ especially in vulnerable communities such as schools.
- The militaristic undertones already created by the term “brigade” is alarming, especially as no parent would wish to expose their children to a militaristic environment in which brigade members with only rudimentary training are barely older than the learners themselves.
- Schools have very well-established and -regulated authority structures. Any interference from additional structures directly empowered by a provincial authority to collect data and monitor security measures among other functions creates the opportunity for power abuse and unnecessary meddling in this regard.
“School communities should have the right to choose whether or not to seek such assistance. Where schools do not give these brigades access to their grounds, personnel and learners, their choice must be respected. If this is not the case, AfriForum will support governing bodies with legal advice. The United Nations has already raised its concern about the use of excessive force in South Africa’s enforcement of the COVID-19 lockdown. The institution of brigades looks like a further attempt by the government to force its powers onto schools,” Maree concludes.