We condemn the WCED’s labelling of parents seeking place for their children to learn as “invaders” and we call for an end to the standoff between the Department and parents in Du Noon, which is preventing learners from accessing school

Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) note with concern the recent developments in Du Noon, where a temporary school to accommodate unplaced learners was meant to open on Monday.

Background to current standoff: Call for all stakeholders to place interests of children at the forefront and for direct engagement from the WCED

Following crisis reports of learners not having access to schools in the area, and urgent interventions by EE and EELC, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) undertook to open a temporary school in Du Noon to accommodate the learners. As explained in our previous press release, the school was meant to start operating on Monday. However, a standoff between the WCED and certain members of the community, consisting predominately of volunteer educators and parents, have prevented learners from accessing the school. These volunteer educators and parents have not given vacant occupation of the temporary school to the WCED and as such the WCED set up a make-shift combined classroom at Sopakhama Primary School Hall.

The breakdown in relations between the community and the WCED follows complaints from some community members around the process of appointing the management structure of the temporary school. While the EELC and EE have distanced themselves from the complaints of these individuals, attorneys from the EELC sought to make the WCED aware of these tensions before the opening of the school, and encouraged the WCED to engage directly and openly with community members. Regrettably, the WCED refused to engage directly with the members of the Du Noon community on Monday, and tensions rose throughout the day. In an attempt to supplement the WCED’s lack of engagement, EELC’s attorneys worked in Du Noon on Monday to foster engagement between the community members and the WCED, in an effort to secure an agreement that would prioritise the best interests of the learners. Throughout the EELC’s and EE’s engagements with the WCED and the community, we have always made it clear that our mandate is simply to act in the best interests of learners and that our primary objective is to ensure that learners have access to education.

As of this Wednesday morning, the stalemate between some parents and the WCED continues. To build trust and move urgently towards settlement of the outstanding issues, we urge all stakeholders in Du Noon, including parents, to place the best interests of the children at the forefront of this matter, and again call on the WCED to engage directly and openly with all community members. The learners have already been disadvantaged by not having had access to schools over the past 8 months. Every additional day that these learners remain out of school will impact severely on their ability to catch up effectively.

Response to the WCED’s Press Statement and Clarification of EE’s and the EELC’s Roles

In addition, the EE and EELC are disturbed by the recent press statement issued by the WCED regarding this issue. The WCED claims that the school would be provided, by 24 August, with textbooks or stationery, but delivery of these items had not taken place as of Tuesday afternoon. We also note that, as of Tuesday, water and electricity had not been restored to the planned school’s premises. Despite the WCED’s own acknowledgement of the failure to provide over a hundred learners in Du Noon a place in a school, the WCED nonetheless frames the actions of parents who sought to establish a temporary alternative as an “invasion”. This disdainful and degrading language, aimed at many parents whose primary concern is that their children are able to achieve their constitutionally protected right to education, is concerning, and we call on the WCED to retract these remarks.

The MEC’s inference that parents who now sought placement, and are not on either the CEMIS or SAMI system, never approached any school in Du Noon to make application, is mischievous. On the list provided to the WCED were the names of learners who had applied to Du Noon Primary and to Sopakhama Primary School and whose names were placed on a waiting list. These waiting lists were provided by officials of these schools to community members operating the temporary school. The EELC were advised by an official of the WCED that they provided a list of 80 learners from both Du Noon and Sopakhama Primary Schools from these waiting lists to the District offices of the WCED.

We are also disappointed by the misrepresentations made by the WCED in their media statement regarding the EELC’s role in the Du Noon crisis. The EELC has never prevented the WCED from engaging directly with parents or the community and has actively assisted the WCED and community members with their registration and verification process. The EELC provided the WCED with a consolidated list of names of learners which it obtained from parents and community members. Following this, the WCED failed to take responsibility for ensuring the relevant parents were contacted for participation in the registration and verification process and EE and the EELC decided to distribute pamphlets and contact over 400 parents in order to ensure that learners were not excluded from the necessary process.

The Province must plan for school shortages and implement catch-up plans

Every learner in South Africa has a right to education, which right is immediately realisable. The MEC has a legal and constitutional obligation to ensure that every learner of compulsory school-going age is enrolled in a school. The WCED has been aware of large-scale learner movement to the province for over ten years.[1] It is the WCED’s responsibility to plan adequately and ensure that all learners in the province have access to schools. Equal Education and the EELC therefore call on the WCED to:

  1. Actively engage with the parents of learners seeking placement at the temporary school now attached to Sopakhama Primary School;
  2. Take immediate steps to ensure that the 4 additional classrooms in Du Noon are fully functional and that parents are properly informed about the temporary plans put in place by the WCED pending the opening of these classrooms;
  3. Ensure that any remaining unplaced learners in Du Noon are accommodated in accessible schools in the community;
  4. Ensure that adequate catch up plans are implemented and monitored for learners being enrolled at this late stage in the academic year;
  5. Ensure adequate planning to cater for the full enrolment of all learners of compulsory school going age in 2016, which plan must fully account for the upper threshold of anticipated learner migration; and
  6. Adopt an approach that recognises the essential role of early childhood development and the importance of Grade R enrolment, as reflected in the Department of Basic Education’s Annual Performance Plan for 2015-2016.

EE and the EELC continue to monitor the situation. For More Information:

Sherylle Dass – Senior Attorney, Equal Education Law Centre 021 461 1421/3551
Nombulelo Nyathela – Spokesperson, Equal Education 060 503 4933