Protesters demand that schools stay open

| Mary-Jane Matsolo
Zak Mbele spokesperson to the Premier accepted the memorandum. Photo by Mary-Jane Matsolo.

Approximately a thousand people marched to the Provincial Legislature building on Friday 5 October, which was also International Teachers Day, in protest against the closure of 27 schools in the Western Cape by MEC for Education, Donald Grant.

The march was organised by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), ANC Western Cape Officials and the United Democratic Front (UDF). It brought together teachers, school learners and parents who called for the removal of MEC Donald Grant.

The provincial secretary of SADTU, Jonavon Rustin, claimed, “The Western Cape Department of Education to date has already closed down 16 schools due to dwindling numbers and poor performance of learners in the Karoo, peninsula and rural areas of the Western Cape. This is educationally unsound and unconstitutional and not in the interests of the child.” He further said that the schools affected are in poor black areas while the schools in former Model C areas are left untouched.

The Western Cape Education Department released a statement saying that the aim of the school closures was to improve opportunities for learners by placing them in schools that are better equipped to provide quality education. The statement said the department had to manage its limited resources carefully to improve access to quality education. It listed urbanization, demand for more high schools and technical training as pressures on the department’s resources.

Marshals at the march wore bibs stating that 100,000 signatures against the school closures had been collected under the banner of Save Our Schools. “They cannot close our schools!” exclaimed 18 year old Tracey Petoors, a learner from Forest Heights. While her school is not scheduled for closure, she took part in the protest in solidarity with learners whose schools face closure.

Led by an ANC vehicle playing recorded revolutionary songs through massive speakers and a band at the tale of the protest, the crowd gathered outside the provincial legislature demanding that a senior official accept their memorandum. The speakers included various religious leaders as well as former TAC chairperson, Zackie Achmat and COSATU provincial secretary, Samkelo Mqomboti.

Tension rose over who from the provincial government should accept the march memorandum, with the protest leaders demanding someone senior in the provincial government to accept it. Finally, Zak Mbele, spokesperson for Helen Zille, accepted the memorandum and thanked the crowd. Some protesters jeered at Mbele and insulted him.

Late decision

One of the main points of contention about the school closure is that the decisions on which schools to close have been left very late. To date they have still not been made. This, according to the education activist organisation Equal Education, leaves students and parents with too little time to make plans to move to another school. Paddy Attwell, Director of Communication for the Western Cape Education Department told GroundUp that the department has a placement plan for each child coming from the schools scheduled to be closed. He said this plan includes providing uniforms and transportation. He said that parents should not worry about finding schools for their children and if parents disagree with where the department wants to place their children, the department would look into alternatives. He referred GroundUp to a statement released by the department on 7 August 2012.

Lisa Draga of the Equal Education Law Centre responded, “Even though there are tentative scanty plans, nothing is finalised. Since the outset of the department’s announcement Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre have been scrutinising the department’s plans closely. What’s been made public is insufficiently detailed. If the department comes out now with a final plan, we would have very little time to review it and to see that learners rights and interests are sufficiently protected, including the transportation plans.”

TOPICS:  Education Provincial

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