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Meet the girl who said ’no’ to a matric rewrite – and won for everyone

“At first I thought I would have to accept the fact that I’d have to spend the whole weekend studying, but when her father – Willie Spies, an attorney and AfriForum’s legal advisor – got home that day, he suggested an alternative.

Pretoria – What made a matric girl decide to challenge the minister and Department of Basic Education after the announcement of the planned rewrite of two exam papers?

The 18-year-old, whose name appears on the judgment which came as a relief to 391 000 matrics who, as a result, did not have to rewrite maths paper 2 and 282 000 who did not have to write science again, is Lienke Spies.

Asked about it, she said it was the stress of the exams after an unsettled year which spurred her on.

“When I sat for the first session of the exam, I was literally sick because of the stress. The prospect of going through that same stress again is what drove me to stand up against the proposed rewrite,” said Spies, who attended the Dirk Postma school in Pretoria.

One of her other exams, visual arts, and the maths rewrite were scheduled for the same day “so that would be six hours of writing hard tests on one day,” she told the Pretoria News.

She and her friends were very upset when the announcement was made by Minister Angie Motshekga. They had worked so hard through a difficult year, and she said in her affidavit that she felt matrics were being collectively “punished” because of the actions of a few.

“At first I thought I would have to accept the fact that I’d have to spend the whole weekend studying, but when her father – Willie Spies, an attorney and AfriForum’s legal advisor – got home that day, he suggested an alternative.

“It was all just fun and talk,” she recalls, until Sunday afternoon after church and lunch when her father went to his office to collect a dictaphone and started dictating the contents of the proposed court application to challenge the department’s decision.

They worked together until 10pm and Marita Hurter typed it up overnight, and they were ready for the high court urgent application the following week.

Lienke, her friend and fellow applicant, Gerhard Burger, put on her school uniforms to go to court. At first, she said she felt anxious, but as the case was presented she grew more confident as she realised there was a good chance they were going to win.

Last Friday afternoon, when the judgment came through, she said: “I nearly started crying, even though I expected the win, I still couldn’t believe it.”

Asked about seeing her name on the judgment, she said: “I don’t see only my name. My name merely represented all the matrics in the same position. I’m proud to say that the matrics of 2020 could stand up for themselves.”

Although a lot of people have thanked her, the other applicants, her father and AfriForum, she does not see herself as a hero.

“No, anyone could stand up for their rights and for what they believe. There were a lot of matrics and their parents who brought similar applications.

“I’d like to thank everyone who was involved to prevent the rewrites. Even if it wasn’t on paper. Knowing they were there and that we were not alone in our challenge helped to keep us and the lawyers motivated and reduced our stress.

“Ours was just the fastest and therefore the first application to see the light,” she said, not the only one (the cases were combined).

She does not believe the maths leak was as bad as made out in the opposing arguments as it came on WhatsApp groups, only a couple of hours before the exam.

“No one could memorise the answers before the test in that short space of time and the investigations showed that only 195 learners saw the maths paper and 61 the physical science paper.

Lienke is registered to study for a BConSci. degree in clothing retail management at the University of Pretoria.

Asked if she has any advice for the class of 2021, she said: “Always act with integrity. Don’t leak tests, you’ll suffer more if you do. Stand up for yourselves if you’re being treated unfairly … and keep your notes in case …”

She has noted the announcement of an investigation and urges the Education Department to ensure secure systems for deliveries and secure printing facilities for the important NSC exam, and to act decisively against individual wrongdoers such as those who distributed and may have benefited from the leaks, not against the innocent matrics who did not.

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