​Equal Education and school pupils protest about school safety outside Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer's home

Equal Education gathered protesters, including school-going children, to demonstrate outside Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer's home on Thursday. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Equal Education gathered protesters, including school-going children, to demonstrate outside Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer's home on Thursday. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The protest by about 80 pupils and activists from Equal Education outside the home of Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer’s home on Thursday, was a cry to be heard, the group said.

They claimed an audit on school safety sent to her office two months ago, was being ignored.

“We want to engage,” provincial EE head Nishal Robb told News24. “This was a move of desperation.”

Dozens of young people stood outside Schäfer’s Bergvliet home on Thursday for two hours in a bid to discuss the results of the audit.

Schäfer, however, did not engage with them. A video posted on Twitter by Equal Education shows her walking out of her front gate to her car while police stand in front of the organisation’s representatives who call out to her.

The organisation supplied the MEC with the results of a social audit of safety and sanitation conditions in Western Cape schools.

A total of 912 pupils were surveyed between September and November last year about the conditions at 244 schools. Site inspections were also conducted and school administrators were interviewed.

Among the findings was that one in every six people at the province’s schools feel unsafe owing to a widespread lack of a sense of security.

The research also found that at 83% of schools, teachers were using corporal punishment.

At 91% of the schools where corporal punishment was reportedly still done, teachers used a form of weapon - the most common being a ruler or small stick.

Robb said numerous attempts had been made by the organisation to engage with Schäfer about the findings, which were handed over to the provincial education department 10 weeks ago.

Schäfer, however, said Equal Education’s “intimidatory grandstanding” offers no solution to improving real education issues.

She said the activists had blocked access to her driveway and demanded that she go outside to address them.

Schäfer insisted she had no issue with engaging with any organisation.

“Today, however, a line was crossed. They came, apparently, to hand me what they have called a social audit.  I have engaged with Equal Education on numerous occasions on social media regarding this issue of their ‘social audit’ – at no point did they request to meet me or try and engage with me at my workplace.”

She said she had asked for the report on several occasions and has not received it.

What she did receive, Schäfer said, was hundreds of handwritten notes from pupils which had to be collated by district directors to whom the audit was addressed.

The information did not refer to specific cases or dates and some issues were in relation to their community, which was not the responsibility of the WCED, she pointed out.

“The WCED drafted a response to Equal Education which has not yet been sent by the department at the time of the protest today. Their demand of two weeks was simply not possible or reasonable, given the disorderly documents provided to us which had to be individually collated and captured, as well as the huge amount of work the districts have to do every day.

“If Equal Education wanted me to respond, why did they address the ‘report’ to the district directors, and why have they to date still failed to furnish me directly with a copy?  They clearly know my email address – which is used by them on a frequent basis, to which we respond at length on various issues.”

Schäfer said it wasn’t because she was afraid of the pupils that she didn’t collect the group’s memorandum. Rather, it was because she “will not allow a dangerous precedent to be set that people can feel entitled to march illegally to my home”.

“The learners are more than welcome to meet with me at my office at a mutually convenient time if they wish to engage constructively in a genuine attempt to improve education in the Western Cape.”

Police spokesperson Andre Traut confirmed officers monitored the picket on Thursday morning. “The small group of protesters dispersed peacefully at around 08:35,” he said.

No one was arrested. – News24

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