The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) yesterday threatened mass protests should Western Cape education MEC Donald Grant go ahead with a proposed move to shut down 27 schools in the province.
The provincial government earlier this month announced plans to close down 27 underperforming schools, saying pupil numbers at the schools were low and had a minimal chance of increasing.
The schools set for closure are mainly in rural areas. About 4000 pupils and 100 teachers could be affected.
Speaking yesterday at a press briefing also attended by officials from Cosatu affiliate, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said it was apparent that the Democratic Alliance (DA)-led provincial administration was prioritising the needs of "white learners ahead of those of black learners".
He charged that the move was indicative of the DA's policy of racism and discrimination.
Sadtu provincial secretary Jonavon Rustin said the union would oppose any proposed school closures until a legitimate and fair process was followed.
"And should (DA leader and Western Cape Premier Helen) Zille persist in allowing Grant to continue with a line she approves of, this matter will bring her administration down. We will protest in defence of our children and will take this unfairness to the highest courts," Mr Rustin said.
"We are prepared to enter into a process of negotiations during the holidays to find a solution to this crisis," he said.
However, Mr Rustin said, the union was concerned at the fact that Mr Grant had a "history of not engaging".
Speaking at a separate media briefing soon after the Cosatu press conference, Mr Grant said a decision to close any school would not be taken "lightly" and "due process" would be followed.
He said a final decision would be made only after consultation with relevant stakeholders, including members of the affected school communities, through a public participation process.
"I care deeply about the outcomes of the individual learners affected by any decision that this government takes to close schools. My final decision is therefore made with restraint and is ultimately guided by what is lawful and what is in the best interests of our learners," Mr Grant said.
Reasons to close a school included ag ing infrastructure, dwindling pupil numbers and poor pupil outcomes, he said.
The final decision on any closures would be made in September and closures would begin at the year-end, Mr Grant said.