Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has ruffled the feathers of the Democratic Alliance (DA) after voicing his "disappointment" over what he believed was a decision by the Western Cape Education Department to "defy the president" by allegedly issuing a letter to schools instructing them to only close for a week.
Now, the DA have lashed out at Lesufi, saying that his remarks not only constituted "fake news", but also charged that he was a hypocrite after he sent out a "near identical" letter in Gauteng.
Lesufi: 'Western Cape cannot define themselves outside this country'
President Cyril Ramaphsa announced on Thursday 23 July that schools would need to close for the duration of four weeks starting 27 July to 24 August due to the spike in COVID-19 infections currently being registered across the country.
Lesufi claimed that he was disappointed that a circular had been issued indicating that all schools will only break for a week, instead of a month.
"We really believe that this kind of behaviour must not be tolerated in our Country, RSA. We cannot allow people to undermine the President," he said in a statement on Saturday 25 July.
"The Western Cape must be aware that, they are part of South Africa and cannot define themselves outside this country," he said.
"They need to appreciate that there is only one president in this country, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa. They must also be aware that, decisions are taken collectively and as such there is no province that can take a decision contrary to a collective one."
DA accuse Lesufi of spreading misinformation, deny accusation
The DA's Shadow Minister of Basic Education, Nomsa Marchesi, said that his statement presented blatant fake news and misinformation.
"The facts are that on Friday, 24 July 2020, the WCED Head of Department (HoD) issued a letter, not a circular, to principals in the province to provide guidance on how to manage schools in the coming weeks in light of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) not yet having issued directions in this regard," she said.
"Furthermore, the letter also indicated that all Western Cape schools would break for the week of 27-31 July 2020. The letter did not in any way, as MEC Lesufi had suggested, insinuate that schools in the province would break for the week and open the following week."
Marchesi said that Lesufi had issued a similar letter to schools in Gauteng in site of his complaints against the Western Cape education body.
"Lesufi's statement on Saturday was not only patently false, it was also hypocritical because on the very same day the Gauteng Education Department's HoD issued an almost identical letter to principals, to the one circulated by the WCED HoD on Friday."
"The MEC's statement was therefore nothing more than an attempt to grandstand and score cheap political points on the issue of the closure of schools," she said, adding that the statement is "indicative of how the ANC has used schools and learners as a political football during the COVID-19 pandemic."
DA to go to court over school closure decision
Marchesi charged that Ramaphosa's decision to close schools represented nothing more than government's buckling to union demands.
"Just this weekend reports emerged that the decision to close schools was due to pressure from unions. This reaffirms the DA's position that President Cyril Ramaphosa would rather please unions at the expense of learning and teaching at our schools and underscores the ANC's indifference to the fate of South Africa's children," she said.
The DA has indicated that it will approach the courts to challenge the decision to close schools, on the basis that it is politically rather than scientifically motivated and not in the best interests of South Africa's 14 million schoolchildren.
"The cost to closing schools is profound and will be borne by children and families for many years," she said.