Section 29 (1) of the South Africa Constitution states, “Everyone has the right to basic education” which means that every child deserves to be at school.

This right is beautifully explicated by Tarryn Copper-Bell,[1] where she highlights important consideration relating to the right to education saying, “The right to basic education, and by extension the right to (suitable) infrastructure, which is inextricably linked to the right to and provision of education, is an immediately realizable right and not subject to the available resources of the education department… Any failure to do so by either the school or the provincial education department would constitute a severe limitation to these learners’ constitutional right to education.”[2]

Media Monitoring Africa would like to grant a GLAD[3] to Mail & Guardian for an article that raises important education issues affecting children as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The story, written by Bongekile Macupe and entitled, “Farm workers’ children forgotten” (Mail & Guardian, 03/10/2020) focuses on the plight of children from Onkgopotse Tiro Comprehensive School, North West who have missed six months of schooling because their hostels were not compliant to Covid-19 safety regulations.

The article deserves a GLAD for four basic reasons with the first one being that the journalist contextualises the problems at Onkgopotse Tiro Comprehensive School by clearly showing that the failings of the department of basic education both provincially and nationally has resulted in the current situation in this particular school and many other rural schools in the North West Province.

Secondly, the journalist correctly frames the problem at this school (and in the province) as a violation of children’s rights. The quote above by Tarryn Copper-Bell is used in this article not only to frame education as a fundament right for children but also as a framework towards a sustainable solution. 

The third reason why this article deserves a GLAD is that the journalist holds the powerful to account for the children to exercise their rights to education. The journalist tried to find possible solutions from both national and provincial departments of basic education. In this case she was successful in getting a response from the provincial government but was still awaiting a response from national government. It is important for journalists to hold government to account and where they fail, they need to expose the lack of engagement from those who are responsible to meet the needs and welfare of children. 

This is a good demonstration of how journalism can be used to not only explain the challenges children are facing but show who is responsible to address these challenges and what consequences await children if the problems are not addressed.

In the article, the journalist, Bongekile Macupe provides the testimonies of the parents and children who confirm that some learners are willing to drop out of school to find work in farms in the Western Cape and Northern Cape especially because many of them will have to repeat the same grade next year.

Lastly, through the use of pseudonyms, learners are given a chance to voice their concerns, desperation and aspirations. Although the voices of children did not dominate the article, what they said was authentic, honest as well as positive and hopeful. One of the learners speaks about how she really wants to go back to school and how sad she feels about staying at home while others are back at school.

Another leaner, with a pseudonym Tshepiso mentions that one of the things that motivates her not to give up on going back to school is helping her younger siblings. “I look forward to them coming back from school and helping them with their homework. It excites me to help them, but sometimes I feel sad because I wish that I could be working on my schoolwork,” she says.

The experience at Onkgoposte Tiro Comprehensive School is an example of what other farm schools are going through. This article raises important issues about these schools and how the department of basic education in the North West are dealing with or struggling to resolve these issues in the face of a pandemic. 

It is important to read a story about the plight of children in the North West, a province that is largely rural. This article needs to be applauded for demonstrating good practice in news reporting about children because it raises awareness about the rights of marginalised children while holding the provincial and national government accountable so that children can have their rights met to the standard reflected in the quote by Tarryn Copper-Bell.

Media Monitoring Africa would like to encourage Mail & Guardian and Bongekile Macupe to continue highlighting more issues affecting children that are not often reported in the media while giving them a voice. Keep up the good work!

By George Kalu and Yinhla Ngobeni

[1] Tarryn Copper-Bell is an attorney at Equal Education Law Centre


[3] A GLAD is awarded when a journalist reports on children in a manner that promotes and protects the children’s wellbeing

Below is the response to the commentary by the journalist, Bongekile Macupe

Thank you…  
This was an important story to do for me for a simple reason that often challenges of farm schools rarely make it to mainstream media. And as a result of this, the state gets away with a lot of injustices at these schools. As soon as I got a tip-off about what was happening at that school I knew that I had to travel there and my news editor agreed precisely because the North West department of education naively believed that no one would find about this injustices because this is a farm school, the learners leave in deep rural Mahikeng and have no access to mainstream media. But we were able to go to those deep rural areas where these children and their parents live in poverty and all they want is an education. Some of the children are back at school now but others are not, and this is a story that we will be following very closely.