As he had promised, Gauteng MEC for Education Panyazi Lesufi paid a visit yesterday to Helpmekaar Kollege after that school had decided that it would not align itself with government requests to close but keep its doors open for face-to-face learning.

Standing on the steps of that great and storied institution Mr Lesufi said he had been ‘flooded with reports that there were schools who thought they should go ahead [and reopen]’ and that he was there to ‘persuade the private education system’ to keep its doors shut and that he was pleased that the school had ‘reconsidered’ and agreed to ‘migrate to online learning’.   

Mr Lesufi went on to say that there were other schools, which he described as ‘culprits’ – and made specific mention of Curro Schools – which had also ‘reconsidered’ their position after his intervention and agreed to close. Finally, Mr Lesufi warned ‘any other school that is private or independent that is opening…is in defiance of the state….we will persuade them…and if they cannot be persuaded, we have to act…and in acting we will find a mechanism within the law’.     

How do you translate that bit of political theatre and its rather sinister ending? And what does it have to do with what I wrote at the weekend, and yesterday?

To spell it out – because my earlier more subtle writing on the subject has been charged with being ‘too clever by half’ – the greatest threat now posed by Covid-19 to South African education is the threat to the autonomy of its independent schools. This is greater than the healthcare threat which, as I specified, could be overcome if independent schools practised a strict testing and screening protocol – a regimen that could even do away with the nuisance of masking.   

The big target

Across the ANC and much of the education activist community there is a misgiving about the role of private institutions in education. They are described as ‘elitist’, accused of breeding ‘inequality’, and of ‘profiteering’ from what their critics attest should be ‘a public good’. As a consequence, there is a political and ideological movement to have their independence curtailed. This has been difficult to justify to date despite the extent to which politicians and activists have resorted to the rallying cry of ‘institutional racism’ to do so, succeeding thereby in eroding some SGB powers. But the big target is the elite private schools – and corporate schools – such as those run by Curro and these have to date been left relatively unscathed by their activist critics.   

But a public health emergency is an entirely different proposition from isolated accusations of racism. If elite schools could be cast as reckless and a threat to public health – particularly in the current fearful climate – then a lobby with public support could perhaps be quite easily built around legislation that might be proposed to enable the erosion of their autonomy. That will be the beginning of the end of the institution of private schooling in South Africa; soon, political commissars – taking the form of regulators – would be required to sit on school boards, approve the budget, set fee increases, and determine class sizes and staff appointments. It would be a case study of political entryism and incrementalism at its finest – a rodeo that my colleagues and I, to put it with understated subtlety, have seen before.

I would like to write it off as indicative of the madness that has invaded the minds of some once sensible purported classically liberal thinkers in the aftermath of the defeat of Mr Trump, but I have been accused this week of being a left-wing activist and supporter of Sadtu for advising independent schools to stay shut – or, as I put it to one, that ‘discretion is now the better part of valour’.

Battle-hardened ideological warriors

My most angry critics fail to grasp my point that at this time, and in the present context, South Africa’s independent schooling establishment is no match, tactically or strategically, for battle-hardened ideological warriors such as Sadtu and Mr Lesufi. These institutions and individuals are very good at what they do – and, as adversaries, you must learn to treat them with great respect.

To say that independent schools might learn from Sadtu is not to say that Sadtu is great, but serves to reveal just what a muddle those schools are in. 

Sensing perhaps the threat in the air – there is always some feeling for these things, and that the social mood is changing – many elite schools (though to its great credit not Helpmekaar, as far as I am aware) have bought into the ideology of critical race theory, and the Black Lives Matter movement it inspired, in some fuzzy hope that if they demonstrate their wokeness, the threat they sense might not materialize. It is a naïve hope, as those schools have become – through their teachings and statements – enablers of the very ideology that drives threats to their autonomy, an ideology no different from that which inspires Mr Lesufi and the EFF.

At this time, many of the elite schools, and sometimes the corporations that own them, do not get this, which has greatly complicated efforts to alert them to the dangers.  

Some parents have contacted me to say that these are their schools, the government has no right to interfere in them, and they will stand and fight. It is an admirable spirit – to a point, as was that of Helpmekaar before it capitulated. But unfortunately it is one that will fail, given that the bulk of elite schools and the institutions necessary to guard private school autonomy are not up to the fight, have very little strategic-political acumen, and will in any event first have to be weaned off their endorsement of critical race theory, turn 180 degrees, and adopt a very different set of guiding principles. And that will take a long time. This is the primary current obstacle in talking to these schools about the threats they face – and even saying as much causes many to break off the conversation right there.  

A new ‘Brackenfell’

What was set to happen, therefore, had prominent independent schools reopened and stayed open was that activists would have used their example to create a new ‘Brackenfell’ – a political platform and rallying cry, this time against elite schools. The few schools and individuals with the guts to stand and fight would soon have been abandoned by their peers and a whole raft of damaging legislation would ensue.            

If you want your institutions to survive, learn the ideology and tactics of your adversary, teach that to your peers, organise politically, and raise a vast war chest to fight your case. Then use that to sell your ideas to society – for which, if as an elite community you want to be successful, you first need to earn the ability to ‘look the East Enders in the eye’.

Because, and you dare not doubt this, only when the bulk of parents in our country begin to demand for themselves the same rights to make decisions over the education of their children as are afforded to the parents of kids at top private schools, dare those schools risk a stand-up confrontation with South Africa’s lawmakers – let alone over an issue as hot as a global pandemic. Take it from people who do this stuff for a living; it is no game for amateurs or hotheads.

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Frans Cronje
Frans Cronje was educated at St John’s College in Houghton and holds a PHD in scenario planning. He has been at the IRR for 15 years and established its Centre for Risk Analysis as a scenario focused research unit servicing the strategic intelligence needs of corporate and government clients. It uses deep-dive data analysis and first hand political and policy information to advise groups with interests in South Africa on the likely long term economic, social, and political evolution of the country. He has advised several hundred South African corporations, foreign investors, and policy shapers. He is the author of two books on South Africa’s future and scenarios from those books have been presented to an estimated 30 000 people. He writes a weekly column for Rapport and teaches scenario based strategy at the business school of the University of the Free State.


  1. OK, so what is the case for closing schools? I don’t see that this case has been made anywhere. Even by Covid-standards, we have experts stating unequivocally that young people should go about their lives, but that we must do our best to protect at-risk groups. This means taking precautions for older people, but the rest of us should carry on with our lives and do normal things like go to school.

    Lesufi is an authoritarian and his not so subtle threats that schools must close or else fails to testify of any rational thought that went into the decision.

  2. Frans

    This is a very different tune to the one you sang previously, this sentiment was hinted at. You have to be more forceful on this.

    I stand by my critique of that column.

    One correction: “the greatest threat now posed by Covid-19 to South African education is the threat to the autonomy of its independent schools”. I think you need to change that to “the greatest threat now posed by the ANC to South African education under the guise of COVID-19 is the threat to the autonomy of its independent schools”

    This threat that you speak of is every present and is increasing at all times. The ANC is determined to get its way and in many instances it has already. Many elite schools now have “transformation” officers sitting at the position of Deputy Head. What else are they going to do except impose critical race theory and keep justifying their existence by finding yet another “incident”?

    The commissar on every board is already there – especially at your alma mater.

    Had you written this column instead of the previous one, you would not have been criticised. Instead, we could have written ideas into this comments section.

    Unfortunately, the best schools are staffed by the best educators. I say “unfortunately” because educators are, in general, not the fighting type (at all).

    You are right, its time the people of South Africa began fighting for children’s futures. But it has to start somewhere and it must happen outside the elite space, we need more Brackenfells – more normal parents standing up to the mob.

    This is the kind of column that should have been written in the first place.

    • Hear hear
      May I add, the greatest threat to South Africa is the intention of the ANC to use whatever it can to circumevent legal parlimentary processes and requirments under the guise of Covid19.

      That evil intent that is being exposed under “Declaration of Disaster”. It is bieng used to unilaterally take away the rights of citizens to circumvent Parlimentary processes under the constitution.. It needs immedite challenge as it is clearly unconstiutional. That is why its simply gets extended and extended.

    • Just look at that. The Daily Friend is quickly turning into yet another publication where the peanut gallery comment section contains more worthwhile content than the actual content.

      For the first piece, private schools should remain closed because they need to virtue signal at less fortunate schools. That argument – or assertion, really – does not hold water.

      Now for strike two, private schools should remain closed, or otherwise the overbearing authoritarian tyrannical government will close them.

      I thought the IRR were against measures like both of these because of the obvious superficial thinking behind them?

      • The IRR is against authoritarian government but it would have served the IRR better if this was the first column.

        That said, life is always about learning.

        I see my comments as aimed at helping Frans deliver his message more effectively and criticise where I see a problem or differ with the propounded view.

        That said, the IRR remains one of the last outposts against the hordes of Communist Mordor.

        i would like to see the IRR becoming more forceful in making its points, especially that South Africans have to stop waiting for someone else to do something, and force the change individually.

        If you are a parent at a school, stand up to the critical race theorists. Ask the embarrassing questions. i would say that the majority of parents are opposed to this but there is a very vocal and aggressive minority – and the only way to counter that is with aggression and public humiliation of their views. And you do that not by shouting down, but by asking questions which lead to intensely embarrassing answers and then point out the hypocrisy gently but firmly. Be the MLK of your parent body.

        Do not be afraid, the cross-racial support is actually very high.

        I’ve done it and expected ostracisation, what I got was a lot of friends across all race groups.

    • “the greatest threat now posed by the ANC to South African education under the guise of COVID-19 is the threat to the autonomy of its independent schools” BRAVO!!!!! Totally agree!

  3. The entire COVID response thus far has not been based on rationality and science but is instead a glorious feast of political and ideological opportunism. Cronje’s point is noted but for independent schools to capitulate so swiftly and readily in the face of some finger-wagging government bully like Lesufi and the EFF pit bulls sends the wrong message to my mind. And sets an ominous precedent. But in the midst of this insane pandemic response I suppose all normal, objective forms of reaction to any contentious issue must be suspended lest we be branded as ‘unfeeling murderers’.

    • It’s a case of be careful what you wish for. With Work From Home becoming the new normal, many kindergartens have closed because parents are at home all day and can take care of the child rearing by themselves. If public and private schools are turning into Stepford Student factories, then short before long, the logical next step would be to home school your kids as well. Where will the public schools be then? Tax payers won’t feel the need to fund public schools if they don’t benefit from them and additionally have to foot the bill in double to ensure their kids are taught how to think and not what to think. Where does that leave the private posh schools? There will be no prestige in going to the same diploma mill, except it has more of a reputation, but the repugnant content of race baiting and the lies about 400 years of slavery remain.

  4. “raise a vast war chest” now we know what this is about in essence.
    The problem is that the Government and their appointed activist have a bottomless war chest funded by the very Citizens and tax -payers that is expected to fund another. Is that not so?

    The problem lies with the APEX court who are no longer trusted by the people i.e citizens and tax payers.

    This Government uses all sorts of devious means to circumvent the very constitution that is supposed to protect the citizens and tax payers. They have no shame or scruples or integrity.
    We all have seen how the ANC wipes it backside with the constitution. This was so clear with the Zuma Nkandla case.
    Who paid for the Government deliberatley acting aginst the Constirution. – “The President, the Minister of Police and the National Assembly must pay costs of the applications including the costs of two counsel.” Nooo- Its the citizens and tax payers.

    The ANC have shown complete disregard for the rule of law and the constitution. The ANC members of parliment ALL failed to honour their oaths including the President and what happened… Nothing. Its like water of a ducks back.

    We have seen the High Courts overide the descions of the other High courts with the cases brought against the Gov by LFN for example. The constitutional court needs to wait for the “war chest” to be refilled so the next bunch (society of the legal fraternity) can also benefit at the expense of the citizens. Its only fair.

  5. What you are asking the schools to do is effectively commit suicide by destroying their business model.

    People send their kids to schools like St Johns for the following reasons:
    The culture of the school.
    The facilities of the school.
    The discipline that the school provides.
    The academic standards provided by the school.

    Telling their students to stay at home eliminates the first three reasons, whilst the last one can effectively be replaced by a home-school curriculum that costs a fraction of the fees.

  6. It is quite depressing that we reached the stage that many promote idea that kids should be deprived of their education, development of social skills and emotional growing. All that in the name of war against imaginary enemy. Instead of teaching kids to be creative, learn how to learn, how to respect others and selves, they are thought to be afraid, stay away from others, hide their emotions and cripple social interactions by covering their faces, and never ever question authority.

    What author suggesting here is no different than what he suggested yesterday, just given another spin on his desire to create generations of uneducated scared emotional and social cripples. Instead scaring people with bad cold, he is scaring them with ANC.

    I wrote yesterday on this, there is absolutely no reason to keep kids out of schools or for any lockdown whatsoever. Except, if intention is to scare people into the obedience so they do not question opinions, but accept them as facts.

  7. I would like to see Frans Defend this view in a long form podcast with some opposing views on the topic to defend against. Perhaps the limited article length meant he was not able to fully expound on his thinking. Personally I really don’t agree with him at all, but perhaps this is him being pragmatic?

  8. Two great articles Frans that reflect balanced political, educational and health real-world considerations. Although I’m opposed to lockdown – unlike many with guaranteed incomes – I regard your views as pertinent to current conditions.

  9. If I understand you properly, your message is to pick your battles. Try and avoid those you are going to loose. The behaviour of the politicians and fellow travellers is, as always, despicable. Tom Sowell pointed out the same attitude towards Charter Schools prevalent with the Democrats in USA.

  10. Just a correction. Helpmekaar already opened for grades 8 and 12 on Wednesday last week, and the initial plans for opening fully was already being communicated with parents the week before. Legally Helpmekaar had full rights to open the school as the current regulations do not preclude the school from doing so.

    The about-turn in plans took place on Saturday immediately after the article (with a number of inaccuracies – news to me that my daughter is in a boys school) by Tebogo Monama was published on News24, as the management could clearly see what was coming.

    So all Lesufi achieved by arriving on Monday was to disrupt the plans to ensure the grades 9-11 could meet their new teachers and undergo a refresher course in the tools needed for online schooling. Fortunately the school had the foresight to distribute text books the week before.

    As a parent with a child in Matric I get what Frans is saying. Even though the school had the legal right to open (although the real president wearing the kopdoek would probably soon change the regulations accordingly) and in-contact schooling is way better than on-line schooling, I do not want my child to be a pawn in some ideological fight with the likes of Lesufi.

  11. So in other words, shut up and like it, or else….!

    Even though they are wrong, even though the decision has absolutely nothing to do with the virus or the mountain of scientific data that proves that they are stupid beyond belief, and everything to do with there hate filled, racist, socialist and communist agenda, we must just simply bend over and take it, or else they will unleash the dogs.


    Unless we have a mountain of money we must just roll over and take it, that’s your advise?
    Seriously? Wow!

  12. Dr. Cronje, you assume we can win at a game of which one of the players can change the rules on the go. It is not an issue of sizing up you opponent correctly, or trying to work smarter, or more influential.
    In the end, when all else fails, ANC ‘influences’ the community through threats of violence. Same as it always has.
    ‘If you don’t protest against that school, your house gets burned down’, or
    ‘ I don’t like it that you are standing up for that school, how about a tyre around your neck?’.
    You can’t win an inherently violent regime through non-violent methods of persuasion…
    If you don’t believe me – just look up north on the continent. How many governments have fallen to non-violent methods of persuasion of the general population?

    • A very pertinent observation there Brand

      I might add that non-violent resistance only works if the targeted audience is capable of the empathy required to make it effective.

      Non-violent resistance worked for Ghandi, because the British were appalled by the concept of killing non-fighters – chivalry etc etc.

      Conversely, in T-Square in Chyna, non-violent protest resulted in the total annihilation of the protestors, their bodies crushed by tanks and the mush taken off to be discarded in a landfill.

      The question then is, who is your target audience? Although the target audience may have used, to an extent, fairly peaceful measures to get into power, it doesn’t mean it will respect those when used against it.

      I think the answer lies in the service delivery protests.

      You want something, get violent about it.

      The only thing that can stop this is if the ANC gives in to peaceful opposition, like on EWC.

      But it won’t, so the end will most likely be violent

      • “Although the target audience may have used, to an extent, fairly peaceful measures to get into power, it doesn’t mean it will respect those when used against it.” I don’t know about that. Look at the tens of thousands of people killed in Jhb and Natal during the 80’s and early 90’s.
        Frans doesn’t seem to grasp this. The tactic of the left is always to deal a blow to your opponent and then blame the opponent for the offense they are guilty of. For example, the ANC instigates acts of terrorism, but then blames the NP government for exactly that crime…
        The only way you win a propaganda war against the left is through this kind of dishonesty and hypocrisy. Otherwise don’t even try.


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