Senators fight for disability rights at schools

BY VENERANDA LANGA

THE Education Amendment Bill is now before the Senate, with senators last week interrogating the Primary and Secondary Education minister Paul Mavima on the rights of students with disabilities at schools.

The Bill went through the committee stage and is now before the Parliamentary Legal Committee to check on its constitutionality.

Senator Chief Zama Nthua Ngungumbane Mkhwananzi was not happy with the use of the words “government shall” in the Bill, which indicates that if government does not have the resources to solve issues including, infrastructure for children with disabilities, it will be under no obligation to do so.

“If you go to the Bill on Clause 1, it says ‘every school shall’ and clause 2 says, ‘the secretary shall’ but if you refer to section 22 of the Constitution it says ‘the State and all institutions of government at every level ‘must’,” Chief Ngungumbane said.

“From our own understanding, the word ‘must’ causes a legal obligation on the State that should be undertaken and I propose that there is similarity in the wording with the Constitution,” he said.

But Mavima said it was a matter of semantics and in his opinion the word “shall’ was the same as “must”.

“In my view the ‘shall’ is as compelling as ‘must’ because it is saying this has to be done. It is unlike the other things where we are considering the unavailability of resources, where we are saying government will ‘endeavour’, which means ‘try’, but in this particular case the obligation is complete and it means it shall be done,” Mavima said.

The senator representing people with disabilities (PWDs), Watson Khupe said the minister was avoiding taking full responsibility, and the word “shall” will give room for government to say they do not have resources even for materials worth $1 000.

“Without the phrase ‘shall’ it will open a lot of litigation cases for our schools because to plan comprehensively for every disability will be impossible. That is why we said the general infrastructure will be provided, but in some cases we will have to deal with it on a case by case basis because resources may and will not be available in order to provide comprehensively for every form of disability,” Mavima said.

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