21 January 2019
Hundreds of learners who have not found places at high schools in Mfuleni are studying in a disused clinic and battling to get food and shoes.
About 500 grade 8, 9 and 10 learners are studying at the clinic from 7:30 am until 2:30 pm.
When GroundUp visited the clinic last week, it was jam-packed with the learners standing, as desks are not available.
“We are asking churches and schools to give us spaces where the kids can wait for the new schools that the department is going to build, said the chairperson of Mfuleni Education Forum, Thembekile Gqwaka.
”Also we are begging nearby schools for food to feed the learners,” he said.
Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Jessica Shelver said the department was treating the plight of the learners as a priority. She said the department had been negotiating with the Forum to enable the completion of mobile classrooms on the nearby Silversands site. But there were different factions within the community who did not all want the same outcome, she said.
“We are engaging with the City of Cape Town to release a site so that we can establish a primary school.”
Shelver said these schools would help alleviate pressure in the Mfuleni-Blue Downs area.
“To accommodate the growth in numbers, we are building schools where we can. One of our biggest challenges is available land in the metros to do so,” she said.
Gqwaka said the Forum wanted the department to hire a caretaker principal at the clinic, where unemployed teachers were working on a voluntary basis.
Gqwaka reprimanded some learners who were hanging around outside the clinic gate. “Go back to your classes. You are not here to tour, but to study,” he shouted.
Thembakazi Luthango, who volunteers as a cook at the clinic, said she battles to feed the learners as they have no cutlery or dishes. “We get food from nearby schools to feed hungry kids who have left their homes without eating first,” she said.
“Some kids bring empty lunch boxes to collect food from us. The ones without the boxes wait for them to finish eating before they also get food.”
Neliswa Vara, who volunteers as a grade 8 teacher at the clinic, said the learners don’t have books, pens or desks.
“Learning and teaching is not happening yet as the learners don’t have books,” she said. “For now, I’m just maintaining order here because we don’t want them to roam around the streets and smoke dagga.”
“Kids go home exhausted from standing on their feet for the whole day because they have no desks.” She and the community leaders tidied the old clinic up last week, she said.
The learners eat pap in the morning and umngqusho (samp mixed with beans) during lunch break, she said.
“Some kids used to get a full meal of rice and meat along with milk at their previous schools. Now they ask me when they will get them here.”
At nearby Tsitsa Primary School, dozens of learners were sitting on the floor of the hall when GroundUp arrived.
“We have no desks here, so kids sit on the floor and place books on their laps when they write,” said one teacher who watched over the learners.
The teacher said parents had been flocking to the school to register about 50 learners each day since last week.
Currently, there were 1,200 learners in the hall, she said.
Nomonde Mphithi, a member of Mfuleni Education Forum, volunteers as a teacher for the learners at Tsitsa.
“We don’t even have a black board and books. We can’t teach under such conditions,” she said.
Phelisa Shicani, a student teacher from Nelson Mandela University, looks after grade 6 and 7 learners in the hall. She said she also struggled to control the learners.
Businesswoman Buyelwa Bomela donated food, sanitary pads and shoes to the clinic school on Thursday.
Bomela said: “I have seen a learner wearing tattered shoes just now, and I feel heartbroken.”
She knew from her own experience what it meant to go to school without breakfast, she said.
Bomela said: “I also grew up here battling to make ends meet, so I can’t fold my hands while the poor learners suffer the same fate. The kids don’t have shoes, sanitary pads and food. I can’t allow such a situation to continue,” she said.
Bomela said she had asked the school volunteers to draw up a list of all the learners who don’t have shoes.
Vara said a teenage girl had come to ask her for sanitary pads. “When I took her aside and asked why she didn’t have pads, she said she had no money because her single mother is out of work.”
She gave the teenage girl money to buy pads at nearby shops, she said.
“After she got the pads, she came back to me and said she also wanted food because she was hungry,” said Vara. She said she dished out umngqusho for the teen to eat.
“I gave her extra food so that she could have it for supper at home.”