Debbie Schäfer should not be an MEC in charge of education in a province in which most pupils are poor – and black.

It is a cause for concern that she was appointed to this position by Helen Zille – but worse that she is an admirer of Zille’s style of bluster and arrogance.

She is what Zille wanted – and found: a mini-me.

A Zille mini-me is a person who is right-leaning – and who is brimming with bravado and egotism.

This is the person parents in the Western Cape were given – and still have – to take charge of their children’s education.

It is for this reason I knew that the principal of Heathfield High, Wesley Neumann, would be met with an iron fist following his dispute with the Western Cape Education Department over his decision to defy an order by the Department to open his school, even though the COVID-19 pandemic was raging unabated.

Neumann, taking cognisance of the fear of parents, decided to keep Heathfield High closed.

In the weeks that followed, the Department readied itself to prove it would brook no defiance from certain principals.

And so, they threw the book at Neumann – very much like they did with Brian Isaacs, the former principal of South Peninsula High.

The behaviour of MEC Schäfer, then and now, has been that of a classroom bully.

Isaacs was sacked – and this week, Neumann was found guilty of six charges of misconduct, including being ‘disrespectful’ to the previous head of the Department, Brian Schreuder, after a hearing that lasted 25 days.


They haven’t decided on his ‘punishment’ yet but are they going to be like the apartheid National Party (if they don’t sack him) and post him off to a one-horse rural dorp.

Schäfer reports directly to Alan Winde, the Premier of the Western Cape. It’s time he grew, what we would say in our communities, some balls.

Does Winde approve of the way she runs education in the Western Cape? If he does, he must say so. If he doesn’t, he must sack her.

It’s that simple.

To make up his mind, all he needs to do is look at her record.

It tells the story of a smirking, arrogant, disrespectful person, who should not be running any department, let alone a department whose job it is to mould young minds.

Few will forget her contemptuous treatment of members of the Equal Education (EE) organisation in 2017.

In an article in GroundUp, she and Zille were accused of displaying a ‘sense of disgust and contempt for the rights of working-class black people to hold elected officials accountable’.

Their behaviour followed the publication of a well-researched and comprehensive social audit compiled by the EE, and which centred on the state of education in the province.

Schäfer refused to accept the document – not even when representatives of the EE brought it to her door.

Instead, she disparagingly referred to it as a ‘so-called’ social audit, a description repeated by her boss, the Premier at the time, Zille.

Schäfer refused to engage with students seated outside her home. She chose rather to Tweet, chiding them for participating in what she described as an ‘illegal’ march, of having unknown ‘motives and of being ‘pathetic’.

She then called in a line of policemen to ‘protect’ her as she walked to her car.

Later, when accused of ignoring the learners, while driving off, she sent what the GroundUp reporter described as a ‘smirking’ Tweet, reminiscent of Marie Antoinette….

‘I waved,’ she said.

The historian, Noor Nieftagodien, later wrote of another time pupils were ignored in this way, about the conditions in Soweto that led to the rebellion of 1976:

‘The white authorities maintained their ideological intransigence and were impervious to appeals even from moderate voices in the township,’ he pointed out.

‘Their standard response to objections raised by parents and students was to dismiss them and, when further opposition was raised, to silence the voices of dissent through intimidation.

‘The arrogance of the state in dealing with the legitimate concerns of students and parents is sometimes ignored as a critical cause of the radicalisation of students.

Schäfer must go.

Hopefully, the DA will be given such a shock in local government elections that in the soul-searching that will surely follow, she and others will be pushed out of power.