Last ditch battle for a famous black choral music school, Simon Estes High

| Pharie Sefali
Luthando Matyatya, a learner at Simon Estes. Photo Pharie Sefali.

Simon Estes Music High School in Wynberg, which was closed down on the first day of term, is fighting a last-ditch battle to survive.

Three teachers are left, teaching more than 250 learners including 17 matriculants. Some subjects are not being taught.

The other teachers are fighting for their jobs at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

Simon Estes High school is a private school and the only predominantly African school in Cape Town specialising in choral music. Over the years the school has become famous for its special music talents and has won national and international competitions.

The school ran into difficulties in 2010 when the Department of Education (WCED) threatened it with closure because of lack of funds. A determined fight by learners won it a five-year reprieve.

But now the three trustees of the music school, Simon Estes the founder, his wife and the school’s former lawyer Shaun Hangone, claim to have closed down the school because of lack of maintenance and shortages of funds.

The teachers of the school found out about the closure on the first day of school, in a letter from the trustees to the Department of Education. The letter stated that the school will be closed down for 2014.

On January 17, the first day of term, learners and teachers were locked outside the premises when the owner of the property, the Moravian Church, denied them access to the school, claiming that the school had not paid rent for the whole of 2013.

The Church opened a trespassing charge against teachers and learners and called the police to escort them away from the premises.

After teachers and members of the school governing body (SGB) intervened, the teachers and learners were allowed to enter the school.

But since then, according to SGB member Morgan Rubatha, the owners of the premises have confiscated all teaching material including computers and printing machines, and all material that the school uses for music classes, claiming that the school needs to pay its rent.

Hangone, who was formerly both a trustee and the lawyer for the school, is also the lawyer for the Moravian church.

Rubatha told parents at a meeting last Thursday at the school that Hangone and his firm had resigned as the school’s lawyer during the school holidays.

He said Hangone had dealt with the school’s financial matters and the school did not have access to the lease agreement form which the trustees had signed with the owners of the premises, but financial records showed the school had paid R75,000 to the Moravian Church.

Many teachers have left the school when they were not paid their salaries since last year because the school did not have enough money to pay them.

Mule Adowoni, who has been a teacher at the school for more than ten years, pleaded with parents at the meeting to at least pay school fees of R500 per year so that he could be paid a salary at the end of the month.

“Many of us here are still teaching because of the nature of the school. We love the uniqueness of Simon Estes and its music. But in the end we also work and we need to support our families”, he said.

Sicelo Colani, the acting principal, said that teachers could only be paid when the WCED gave the school the annual support grant in April. Until then the school would have to survive from fees.

A grade 11 learner at the school said that it was hard to come to school every morning not knowing whether or not he would get a good education. “These problems the school faces deny us the right to proper education because sometimes we come here and there is no teacher or we do not get certain subjects.”

Asanda Nkosi who is doing grade 12 is worried that if the problems continue matriculants will fail at the end of the year because attention is being given to internal battles at the school instead of to teaching.

Hangone declined to comment at this stage and GroundUp could not get hold of Simon Estes.

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