17 Oct 2017

Political Parties, Social Media & Schools: Unlawful Mix?

by Verlie Oosthuizen, Partner, Durban,
Practice Area(s): Social Media / Cyber Crimes |

Matric madness is upon us again and our feeds are flooded with pictures of pupils in the last stages of their school career taking part in the rituals that signify the end of their days as pupils.  At Maritzburg College a group of boys took part in the tradition of decorating their shirts and taking photos on their last school day before exams – except they had drawn references to the political party, the EFF, and had mentioned that the party was “our last hope of getting our land back”.  They had also tweeted the picture on social media.  It was soon picked up by the political party itself and the photo went viral.  Adding fuel to the fire was the outburst of the Maritzburg College old boy and international cricket player Kevin Pieterson who did not take kindly to their decorations.

What many people do not know is that in terms of the Schools Act there is a legal prohibition on political activity during school time at public schools.  This does make sense as most learners are under the voting age and so campaigning would be largely fruitless.  But the question in this instance is whether the school’s swift move to formal disciplinary action against the pupils was appropriate?

The social media scrutiny of the school was particularly intense and the commentary on Twitter was extensive and hostile from all perspectives.  It is difficult to draw a line in the sand about the types of symbols and views a school will allow and those it will not allow.  In our view it is important for schools to discuss these types of policies with parents and pupils before situations like this arise and spiral out of control.  The practical reasons for a particular policy need to be examined and the reasons for implementation need to be clearly explained within the school community.