Schools fight in court to fill posts
In the latest in a string of court cases relating to poor conditions at Eastern Cape schools, school governing bodies have now gone to court in a bid to get all teachers’ posts filled in the province. Angry parents, teachers and principals said taking legal action was the last resort after years of desperate pleas to the provincial education department had largely gone unanswered.
The Legal Resources Centre filed an urgent application on Thursday last week at the Eastern Cape High Court in Grahamstown to compel the four respondents in the case, including Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and acting Eastern Cape education department head Mthunywa Ngonzo, to implement fully the 2012 plan to fill the 64 752 teaching posts it had budgeted for in the province.
The other two respondents are the director general in the department of basic education, Bobby Soobrayan, and the Eastern Cape’s MEC for education, Mandla Makupula.
The application deals with “the failure of the respondents to implement the 2012 educator post establishment in the Eastern Cape, the consequent failure to appoint teachers to vacant substantive posts and the failure to appoint temporary teachers to these posts pending the implementation of the 2012 post establishment”.
Andrew Saulls, the chairperson of the Bethelsdorp school governing body forum, said: “Some schools are paying up to R80 000 a month for teachers because the department has not filled these positions.
Funds are depleted
“The schools fundraise and parents contribute what they can to pay these teachers, but the funds are depleted now and many children are sitting in class with no teacher in front of them.”
The forum, which is an applicant in the Legal Resources Centre’s case, represents 55 primary schools and 17 high schools in the northern areas of Port Elizabeth that accommodate about 70 000 pupils, Saulls said.
“Children are asked by teachers when they come to school: ‘Did you bring any money?’”
“We have sent numerous notifications of problems but have got no real feedback … We don’t know who to phone, who to send letters to … we mostly send them to a fax number at the provincial office, but we don’t even know if they receive these.”
In March last year, Motshekga implemented the Constitution’s section 100 1(b) and placed the Eastern Cape’s education department under administration in an attempt to address the chaos that has burdened the department and rendered it the province with the poorest matric pass rate in 2011.
No communication explaining what the intervention means for schools has come from Motshekga, Saulls said, adding that the few meetings between schools and the district office have been “lame and unprofessional”.
“They kept asking us technical questions … they pretend they don’t know what our demands are, but we have sent them how many lists now?” he said.
Dissatisfaction came to a head last month, when parents took their children out of schools and rioted, burned tyres and blockaded roads.
About 20 000 parents and high-school pupils will be embarking on another march on Friday morning, June 9, Saulls said.
Makupula had agreed to meet school representatives on the same day, he added.
The regional director of the Legal Resources Centre in Grahamstown, Sarah Sephton, said confusion had surrounded the national department’s intervention in the province, provoking the centre to go to court in February to compel Motshekga “to take control of the province and fully implement the intervention”.
“There was an agreement out of court that the minister had in fact intervened and would implement this decision … and is entitled to delegate functions,” she said. “Since then, we have tried to engage with the minister on the delegation of her functions, but she has not responded to any requests for clarity.”
Samuel Wessels, the principal of Mary Waters High School in Grahamstown, which is also an applicant in the Legal Resources Centre case, said the 2012 post provisioning was “just a dead piece of a paper to us”.
The school, which has more than 1 000 pupils, is supposed to have 38 teachers, but for the past two years it has only had 27.
As a result, pupils have lost out on “a quality education”, Wessels said. “This has affected our matric pass rate, which has dropped about 20%. Who is going to take responsibility for this?”
Making inquiries with the provincial and national education departments was like “knocking on a locked door”, he said. “When you speak to someone on the phone, they say there is nothing they can do and they refer you to someone else. All we want is teachers in front of learners.”
Neither the provincial nor the national education department had responded to questions by the time of going to print.