Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi caused a stir on Wednesday by expressing a wish for school uniforms to have a South African flag by next year - and he is not backing down.
“The South African flag is a national symbol which every young person has to become intimately familiar with,” Lesufi posted on Twitter.
“Wearing it on their school uniforms every day will ensure the children of the country appreciate it.”
His spokesman Oupa Bodibe said a debate would be initiated with school governing bodies regarding implementing this new addition to the uniforms by next year.
“We will be going into consultation and also talk to uniform manufacturers so they can add the flag in their production processes,” Bodibe said.
He said it was important to get the youth to understand and appreciate all national symbols. “Getting the symbols to be as close to them as possible is the best way.
“There must be no panic because we will all work together to phase this in. The department will not be unreasonable.”
Lesufi made the announcement of this plan on social media, sparking off a Twitter storm which spilled over to other social media platforms. The post invited varied responses from members of society even beyond the Gauteng borders.
In his post, Lesufi said: “My wish is to ensure that from 2017 all school uniforms must have our SA flag just like national sporting teams.”
Elaborating further, he said the flag would unite the country. “It is our symbol; our identity,” he said, amid the furore that erupted.
Questions abounded on social media asking whether the flag was the most important thing the MEC could do for education, how the flag’s addition would uplift the standard of education, or if it would do anything to improve the state of schools which had no infrastructure, teachers or facilities to facilitate learning.
University of the Free State vice-chancellor Professor Jonathan Jansen added his voice to the fray. He posted on Twitter: “We know it’s an election year, but an MEC’s proposal to put the SA flag on every school uniform is plain silly.”
He asked if South Africa was an insecure nation, and brought into his comments the issue of xenophobia: “How will that make non-South African children in our schools feel? Singled-out in a xenophobic culture?”
Another blogger Abby Koopedi said the focus should be on education, which was always behind: “A flag? Do you think China stresses if there’s a flag on a school uniform? It is all a waste of time.”
ShutDown said the flag would not liberate the country economically, nor return land to the people.
Kwansei suggested the introduction of a single uniform for all public schools. The flag can be done later, the blogger said.
Others called for the decolonisation of education, the improvement of grades and the equalisation of the levels of education across all areas of the county.
The cost issue was also thrown into the discussion, with parents asking if they would be expected to carry extra costs to ensure their children were properly dressed for school. “Probably as parents we will be expected to pay for the flag, and for putting it on to uniforms,” said @ThaboH.
But an equal number of people applauded the decision, and said it was a good move on the part of the MEC. “I love the idea; it will show that we are proudly South African,” @comradeD said.
“The uniform proposal is fantastic. Patriotism is something we must learn from an early age #SouthAfrican #African,” tweeted Kwanene Kunene.
Lesufi took to social media again to defend his plan, telling followers that negativity was in the bloodstreams of people.
Asked about the tender allocation for the flag, he responded: “Why should it be about tenders? Our children can sew them.”
The MEC sought to dispel fears on the costs by explaining that the country’s symbols were an important aspect of raising the young.
Bodibe explained that parents had nothing to fear because the addition of the flag would be progressive. “No child will be turned away if they are not wearing the flag, but parents will be encouraged to add it as they replace uniforms.”
He said there would be no xenophobia because every child would wear the flag and that would make schools inclusive. “This is our national flag, not the flag of a private club... We cannot love South Africa in bits and pieces and children will learn to love (the country) as a whole.”
Pupils at the new Curtis Nkondo School of Specialisation already wear a uniform with the flag emblazoned on it.
The school, the first of 27 specialisation schools, offers technical and vocational skills to high school pupils with a keen interest in engineering, maths, science, ICT and commerce, entrepreneurship as well as performing arts and sports.
It was named after the late Curtis Nkondo, the Limpopo-born former South African diplomat, school teacher and ANC activist. The school is in Emdeni Extension, Soweto.