Human Rights Watch response to Department of Basic Education media statement in response to Human Rights Watch’s report “Complicit in Exclusion”: South Africa’s Failure to Guarantee an Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities
August 19, 2015
Human Rights Watch has been notified of an official communication from the Department of Basic Education’s Media Liaison services, in which the Department of Basic Education notes that:
“It is disappointing to note that Human Rights Watch researchers approached the Department of Basic Education with predetermined findings of their research. Despite asking for our input they failed to include our submissions in their final report which address many of the concerns raised in their report. It is almost as if there is an attempt to sensationalise the very real and very serious challenges faced by learners with special needs.”
To date, Human Rights Watch has not received an official, Ministerial response to any of its letters. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly expressed an interest in receiving such responses and has offered to publish any letters on its website – a standard practice for all of Human Rights Watch’s correspondence with governments.
Letters sent to different governmental departments can be found in the Annex to Human Rights Watch’s report.
To dispel any presumptions that Human Rights Watch has failed to incorporate the Department of Basic Education’s feedback or information, Human Rights Watch hereby provides details on numerous sections where it included the very limited information received from the Department of Basic Education. All data used in the report stems from official data published by the Department of Basic Education.
A detailed timeline of communications with the Department of Basic Education is included below.
Human Rights Watch consulted the Department of Basic Education as early as November 2014 when it met with senior staff of the Department of Basic Education’s Inclusive Education unit. The team’s input was included in various sections of the report (pp. 44, 59, 61).
February 19, 2015: Human Rights Watch sent a follow-up letter to Acting Director General Mr Padayachee, requesting further information and clarifying the status of various policies and legal obligations. The letter is included in Annex I of Human Rights Watch’s report.
It followed up with the Chief Director of Strategic Planning, Research Coordination on March 26, 2015, March 29, 2015, and on April 30, 2015, and on May 18, 2015 with its Chief Education Specialist, to prompt a response from the Department of Basic Education.
April 27, 2015: Human Rights Watch follows up with South Africa’s delegation to the United Nations in Geneva, citing: “I have attached the letter we sent to the Acting Director General of the Department of Basic Education on the 19th of February. I have since liaised with other members of the department to understand whether we should expect a reply to the letter. As I mentioned, we would appreciate an answer to some of our queries so that we can ensure we include the government’s response in our report.”
Although the Department of Basic Education alleges it has sent the detailed response included in its media statement, to date, Human Rights Watch has not received an official reply clarifying the facts contained in the letter.
May 21, 2015: Human Rights Watch representatives met with the department’s spokesperson. Following this meeting, the department’s spokesperson sent an unofficial overview to Human Rights Watch’s researcher. The overview is included in Annex II of Human Rights Watch’s report. Human Rights Watch used information from this overview for the report to inform the report’s overview on Inclusive Education, as well as in p. 74, where it cites the department’s calculation that 30,000 children with disabilities are out of school.
June 8, 2015: Human Rights Watch’s researcher communicates with senior staff at the department’s Inclusive Education Unit to make them aware that “We informed Mr Mhlanga that we would still appreciate a formal reply to our [February] letter which is now over three months overdue. We will shortly send a joint letter to the Minister of Basic Education and the Minister of Social Development with a summary of our findings and recommendations, and we will make sure … you get a copy. We also mentioned our interest in inviting the Minister or Deputy Minister of Education to the launch of the report and round table of discussion towards the end of July. If it is helpful at all, I am happy to have a further phone conversation with you … to brief you on the contents of the letters, as well as the ideas around the launch of the report.”
June 24, 2015: Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Minister Angelina Motshekga, presenting the report’s key findings and recommendations. It provided the Department of Basic Education with a timeframe to respond to the letter to ensure Human Rights Watch could include the findings and letter in its report. To date, Human Rights Watch has not received an official response to this letter. The letter is included in Annex I of Human Rights Watch’s report.
July 9, 2015: Human Rights Watch’s researcher communicated with senior staff at the department’s Inclusive Education unit to clarify inconsistences in data included in the department’s “Report on the Implementation of Education White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education. An Overview for the Period 2013-2015” released in May 2015. Such inconsistencies were acknowledged by the department’s unit. Human Rights Watch’s researcher asked the unit for an update on the reply to its letter of June 24, 2015 and was informed that “the formal process for your letter and report is on its way.”
August 7, 2015: Human Rights Watch’s researcher sends a communication to Mr. Steve Mabua, Private Secretary to the Minister of Basic Education, stating “I wanted to check once more whether the Minister or other units in her Department will be sending us an official reply to our letter dated 24 June 2015. Unfortunately we are no longer in a position to include it in the final report, but we can ensure it is posted on our website - which we usually do with many official replies.”
August 11, 2015: Human Rights Watch sent a letter of invitation to Minister Angelina Motshekga, requesting a meeting with her and senior representatives of the department, and extending an invitation to the press conference jointly held by Human Rights Watch and the South African Human Rights Commission on 18 August 2015. The Minister’s private secretary informed Human Rights Watch that the Minister was not able to attend the event. Human Rights Watch followed-up to extend the invitation to a senior representative of the department. To date, the Minister of Basic Education has not confirmed a meeting with Human Rights Watch.
August 12, 2015: An official from the department’s Inclusive Education unit informs Human Rights Watch that a letter of response remains in draft form, and Human Rights Watch’s researcher is later informed on August 17, 2015 that the letter has not yet been approved by the Minister’s office. Human Rights Watch notifies the department that it is no longer in a position to include the letter in printed copies of the report, but upon receipt, will post the letter on the website to ensure the government’s response is available –a standard practice for all governments’ responses. To date, an official letter has not yet reached Human Rights Watch.
August 17, 2015: After numerous emails from Human Rights Watch to the department’s spokesperson and the Director General’s office, the department’s spokesperson confirms that Dr. Moses Simelane, director of the department’s Inclusive Education unit, would represent the department at the joint launch.
August 18, 2015: At 5:43 am, the department’s spokesperson informed Human Rights Watch’s researcher that Dr. Simelane “had been deployed to another urgent task and will therefore be unable to attend. The rest of us are in Cape Town on various assignments.” The Department of Basic Education missed an open invitation to share its own perspectives, respond to Human Rights Watch’s findings publicly, and answer key questions on the implementation of its policy on inclusive education.