While many black people (except this writer) may have called Democratic Leader and Western Cape premier Helen Zille names following her tweet on 20 March – well, she was right about one thing: the ruling African National Congress, especially its Eastern Cape provincial government, had failed many parents – specifically their kids, rendering them [pupils] “education refugees” in Western Cape. And here’s why:
Sowetan newspaper reported on 19 January of thousands of schools that have been shut down by government over the last few years – something that received less criticism from academics, analysts and civil society which is shocking, at best. The government had over the past five years shut down more than 4,500 public schools and that hundreds more were also facing closure, according to report allegedly compiled by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) released in 2007 which further noted that only about 30,117 schools were operational. But two years later, claimed Sowetan, citing another report compiled by government in 2009, the number had since declined to 25,827 operational schools.
Of all provinces it was only Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal that had shown an increase in the operational schools, and townships and rural areas were the most affected. Of these – some of which are now white elephants – 992 were in Free State and 874 in North West. Poor performance was cited as the main reason for the declining numbers of pupils in these schools (townships and rural areas), Sowetan quoted the report. This resulted in migration to better-performing schools in towns and cities, something Zille called “education refugee” on 20 March 2012 on Twitter which many blacks (again, except this writer) have called racist.
Given these challenges and the decline in operational schools due to “education refugee” – the department of Basic Education, however, continued to build more schools, citing shortages, reported Sowetan. The newspaper said it had established at the time that provincial departments of education earmarked a number of schools for closure. It predicted that Eastern Cape – as we came to know a few weeks back – was among the provinces expected to close hundreds of schools, followed by Western Cape and Northern Cape.
According to the report Eastern Cape government had identified more than 500 schools with less than 100 pupils each, and that Northern Cape would shut down about 25 primary and secondary schools by end of March. Mpumalanga was also expected to shut down about 14 schools while the Western Cape would close down 9.
Department of Basic Education spokesman Panyaza Lesufi told Sowetan at the time that shutting down of schools was a provincial “prerogative”. Lesufi denied the trend of closing schools was a “national crisis”, saying Gauteng was the only province ravaged by abandoned schools. He said: “Parents are voting to pull their children out of under-performing township schools to better schools in the cities”. Lesufi said the department was not aware of the number of schools lying idle in the country. “We don’t keep that information here. Once a school is closed we hand it over to the Department of Public Works”.
While the Gauteng education department reported a backlog of 120 schools, the province had shut down 46 schools, spokesman Charles Phahlane told Sowetan at the time. Gauteng education MEC Barbara Creecy said “to address space pressures the province [had] spent R200-million on building 36 new schools”.
In Eastern Cape, education spokesman Loyiso Pulumani told the newspaper that managing over 500 “sub-optimal” schools would in the long run be “untenable”, claiming the leading cause of pupil migration was the “incessant under-performance by rural schools”.
Though Limpopo, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal could not provide details of the state of schools because their “technical staff were still on holidays”, Sowetan had established that schools have been closed in those provinces.
In Northern Cape the Gaetsewe district was expected to shut down 25 schools by the end March. Nancy Sephiri, a resident in the district, however, objected to the closing down of Rebogile Primary School. Rebogile, with a capacity of 300 pupils and 50 pupils, was to be merged with Menyeding Primary School in another village, according to the newspaper. Sephiri said “I understand our school has low numbers of learners but losing it out to another village is unfair.
In the North West there were about 24 unused schools in the province, the education department told Sowetan. Education spokesman Gershwin Chuenyane said: “The process of closing down schools went smoothly because there was consensus between the department and the community. We have since made alternative arrangements for the affected pupils.”
In Mpumalanga, 14 schools in the Mkhondo and Nkomazi municipalities were to be shut down to “give fruition” to two new “no-fee” boarding schools. Department spokesman Jasper Zwane told Sowetan: “These schools had low learner enrolment.”
Zille’s DA-led province was to shut down three schools for “zero learner enrolment” while 9 were closed because they were built on private land. At the time the province was looking at closing down nine more schools, Paddy Attwell of the provincial government told Sowetan newspaper in early this year. In the same issue relating to the closure of schools around the country, a few of these have since been turned into business centre.
Called “shadows of their former selves” by Sowetan reporters Zwanga Mukhuthu, Boitumelo Tshehle and Michael Tlhakudi on 19 January this year – Thesele Secondary School in White City Jabavu, Soweto – was shut down in 2005 when it experienced dwindling numbers of pupils because of migration to cities and the suburbs – is one example. This after it was discovered that it had been built on wet lands. The school reportedly boasted of about 10 blocks and 21 classrooms and was regarded one of the biggest in the township.
Built before the 1976 Soweto uprising, following its closure, resulting in it becoming a crime hub in the area, it was in 2007 with the permission of its former principal and the department of public works that neighbours took control of the school. Thesele building is now home to more than 20 different businesses, including woodwork, carpentry and tailoring, and with a workforce of more than 50 people. Caretaker Jabu Ntuli said they needed “more [abandoned] schools like this so that we can use them to improve our lives”.
Of course there are many schools like Thesele.
Leshome Junior High School in the rural area of Botshabelo, Free State, was closed in 2008 when pupil enrolment dropped. According to Sowetan the school – built in 1983 and notorious with community members – was riddled with allegations of drug abuse, violence and vandalism by its own pupils. Its former pupil Molebogeng Skhosana said: “When boys came back from initiation schools they would start harassing girls and other small boys.”
But its former principal, Rancho Tlhaole, said the pupil numbers dropped because primary schools had decided to increase their curriculum. Up until now the school has been in an advanced stage of dilapidation, according to Sowetan. But Tlhaole said plans are under way to turn the school into an FET college.
In the North West village of Dinokana just outside Zeerust a group of 70 pupils, some as young as six, walk a distance of 2km to school. This is after their Puana Primary School was shut down in 2009 due to low pupil enrolment, Sowetan reported. The two-block school comprising eight classes was built in 1968. Its pupils have since been moved to Gareosenye Primary School, situated 2km from Puana.
Early last week [26 March] the Daily Dispatch newspaper reported of 300 schools that had been unofficially closed in the Eastern Cape which now remain white elephants after communities chose to send their children elsewhere – some in the Western Cape – to receive better schooling.
On Thursday [29 March 2012] the newspaper further reported of a fully furnished school, Sakuphimelela Senior Secondary school, outside Kind William’s Town, which had remained unoccupied and therefore a white elephant for the past three years. Its infrastructures are in a decay state due to lack of maintenance, said the Daily Dispatch this week.
Reportedly opened by former Eastern Cape education MEC Shepard Mayatula in 2009, and like many other white elephants schools, Sakuphimelela was closed down after its pupils number dwindled due to poor teaching methods. Some of its equipments like computers have since been stolen.
Community activist Victor Moyeni told Dispatch late week Thursday that the district officials sent to investigate had done “nothing to solve the problems”. Moyeni said pupils’ number dropped from 100 to 30 and in January 2009 parents received letters from the principal notifying them of the school’s closure.
Government has been accused, among others, of failing to provide safe classrooms, teachers, food, transport, textbooks and stationery at schools which forced parents to move their children to other schools.
The revelations were made by Eastern Cape education MEC Mandla Makupula while delivering his budget and policy speech at the Bhisho Legislature over a week ago that: “Communities have unofficially closed 294 public schools in the Eastern Cape. These are just being vandalised and the law requires we’ve got to [hold] public hearings.” Makupula said the hearing was ascertain whether the department would officially close down or merge affected schools. It is believed this will result in the department’s 23 districts school closing, especially those with less than 100 pupils. The department reportedly indicated earlier this year there were already 500 schools earmarked for closure due to low numbers.
In early February the Dispatch reported of Western Cape education department’s 10-day snap survey conducted early this year that about 8000 children from Eastern Cape had entered the DA-led province’s education system.
Zille and her delegation, which comprised shadow education minister Annette Lovemore, shadow education MEC Edmund van Vuuren and MPL Vuyelwa Mvenya, were expected to visit schools faced with challenges in the province while COPE provincial leader Sam Kwelita expressed concern, saying: “Our concern is for pupils who should be getting quality education and what happens to them when these schools are closed.” Kwelita blamed the migration of the low quality education.
Sadtu provincial secretary Mncekeleli Ndongeni said the department should not be “excited” by the closure of schools just because it wanted to “save resources”, according to the Dispatch. Ndongeni said: “This means they are failing to deliver. Parents are taking their children to where they can access food, transport and [adequate] teachers. All children are entitled to education.”
Pulumani said a list of schools affected would only be known once they had been gazetted, which would be by the end of May.
The Dispatch also reported 23 March that while Eastern Cape education department closed down schools (for whatever reasons) and failing to provide text books and schools furniture where they arte needed, among others, government had exacerbated the problem by failing to spend even half of its R1.4 billion.
According to Makupula only R700-million of the 2011/2012 infrastructure budget had been spent. Government had set an ambitious target of spending an extra R200-million between for the past two week, lifting its spending level to 64.3% by the end of the financial year (March 31).
The Daily Dispatch quoted what it called a “classified” report by education Chief Modidima Mannya tabled before a National Council of Provinces select committee delegation which noted that:
1) The province needs 15214 additional classrooms to meet this year’s curriculum needs;
2) Of the 114 storm-damaged schools in the province, only 52 had been fixed during the 2011/12 financial year; and
3) There are 150 overcrowded schools in the province, including 65 high schools and 85 primary schools. The department of roads and public works has assigned three companies to deliver 300 mobile classrooms to deal with classroom shortages.
Makupula reportedly said the national department had appointed companies to replace at least 49 of the 300 mud structures back in January, saying “the completion date for these schools has been delayed from the end of March 2012 to end August 2012″.
He remained positive, adding that the 2011/12 expenditure patterns were a dramatic improvement compared to previous years. “So far the results are encouraging, but not yet ideal,” Makupula announced, saying the department’s school furniture budget was slashed by almost two thirds from R60-million to R20.9-million. This is despite having a R300m backlog to furnish newly built schools and replace damaged desks and chairs.
In early this year Daily Dispatch reported of more than 400 Nkangeleko Intermediate School pupils who started off the year faced with shortages of school furniture. The pupils were apparently found sitting on bricks and paint tins while using their laps as desks to write on. About 100000 “ghosts” pupils were discovered by the department last year through data verification, saving it R20m last year alone.
So, Zille might have used an unfamiliar language (more on that to follow) but she had a point people: the ANC EC failed our children. Finish en klaar!