Teachers attacked at Khayelitsha primary school

Department agrees to investigate community grievances over school management

Photo of a crowd outside a school

Learners and protesters wait outside Luleka Primary School while district officials meet with community members, the governing body and the principal. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

By Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

26 October 2016

Teachers at Luleka Primary School in Khayelitsha say a group of protesters claiming to be parents beat them in front of learners and forced them to leave the school premises. The incident occurred on Tuesday morning.

Teacher Ncumisa Gxono said she had arrived at school at 7:10 am. A group of young men had told her to take her car outside the school.

“I did not ask questions; I parked my car outside school premises,” said Gxono.

While she and other teachers waited outside the school, the principal arrived with an official from the Western Cape Education Department (WCED). When the school principal called the teachers to return to school, they were beaten.

“They [community members] pushed us to leave the school premises, some beating us, swearing at us,” said Gxono.

Another teacher, Ntombizandile Tapa, said protesters pulled her by the hair and kicked her. She said she fell to the ground.

“I feel so embarrassed being attacked in front of my students,” she said.

When GroundUp arrived, community members were blocking the school gate. Someone shouted, “You missed the real action, we beat some of the teachers. One was even kicked down.”

The school gate was locked. A police officer was standing behind it. Executive members of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) were also prevented from entering the school.

The group outside the gates called the learners and told them to sing. Only a few joined the protest. Some learners sat down on the road and some continued playing.

School principal Gcobani Mthoba, WCED officials and community leaders met for three hours.

Learners protest against the protest

Parents said a car had driven around Harare on Monday night calling all young people to meet at Luleka. But it was clear that most people were not even aware what exactly the protest was about.

Protesters steadily left in small numbers until after two hours there were around a dozen left. Then things changed. Learners started singing, demanding an end to the protest. They shouted: “Mayiphele lento sifuna ukufunda”, meaning : “This must end, we want to study”.

The learners’ small protest ended when some parents threatened to beat them.

One parent, who did not want to give her name, told the learners they were fighting for unemployed community members who were going to benefit from a project to construct a pedestrian bridge from the informal settlement of Ndlovini to the school.

But one learner replied, “That has nothing to do with us.” 

The parent then said that there were children who were not at school because Luleka was full and the principal had to build more classes.

Allegations against principal

Community leader Nomnikelo Ntshiba claimed the bridge project had been shelved when Mthoba returned money which had been earmarked for the bridge, saying that there was no space to build a bridge.

She also said parents had not been informed when five new teachers were hired at the school and a caretaker, who recently passed away, was replaced.
“What we want to know from him is where and when did he advertise these six posts and why not a single one of us saw them?” she said.
Another protester, Mzimasi Mpofu, said they wanted Mthoba and his school governing body to be investigated.
“How can you say no to a development? The bridge is needed for children who live in Ndlovini. We also want to build a small room for neighbourhood watch. We still do not understand why he does not want it,” he said.
Mthoba did not want to comment, referring GroundUp to the WCED.

Education department responds

WCED Directorate Communication Millicent Merton said community members had locked the gates at Luleka Primary School on Tuesday, preventing learners and teachers from entering the school grounds.

She said district officials met with community members, the governing body and the principal.

“Community members demanded the removal of the school principal and the caretaker. Their grievances include allegations that the governing body is dysfunctional as well as claims of maladministration,” she said.

Merton said an agreement was reached that the claims would be investigated and that the principal and caretaker would be allowed to continue to perform their duties.

District officials will return to the school on Thursday.

The school was operating normally on Wednesday.