/ 27 January 2012

Thembelihle pupils locked out of schools yet again

Gauteng education department officials this week dilly-dallied in intervening in the exclusion of pupils living in Thembelihle — an informal settlement southwest of Johannesburg — from schools located in the neighbouring Lenasia.

It was only after the Mail & Guardian called senior south district admissions co-ordinator Johan Kruger and sent questions to provincial education spokesperson Charles Phahlane on Wednesday that officials called an “urgent” meeting with community leaders to place learners in schools.

Unaware of the presence of the M&G reporter at the meeting at MC Kharbai School For the Deaf in Lenasia on Thursday, Mashudu Limagovha, the south district’s chief education specialist, conceded that Phahlane had ordered them to convene the meeting following the M&G‘s inquiries. “We were sent by Phahlane, we’ll report to him,” he said, asking that the M&G reporter leave the meeting and rather approach Phahlane for comment.

Community leaders alerted and pressured district officials — including senior admissions officer Kesentseng Mokobela, who attended the meeting with Limagovha — about the problem last week, but more than a week after the schools had reopened they had not responded.

Lists containing the names of children without schools, as well as their parents’ contact details, were faxed and handed to the officials. The lists created a problem because they had “no addresses and it becomes difficult just to place [pupils] without following policy”, said Phahlane.

By Thursday more than 50 children, the majority of whom comprised pupils who were supposed to start grade one and those starting grade eight in a new secondary school, had still not been allocated schools. In full school uniform the pupils marched with their parents to the meeting venue.

Thembelihle Crisis Committee organiser Siphiwe Mbatha said it was resolved in the meeting that the pupils would be placed in the schools that had turned them away, claiming that they were full, from Friday.

A variety of dynamics lies behind the struggle of Thembelihle parents to find schools for their children. It is a long-standing problem about which the M&G first reported in 2005.

Concerned parents maintain that their inability to pay fees is the main reason why the schools deny their children access, whereas absent documents and pupils’ failure to speak or write Afrikaans also compound admission problems. Late applications are also to blame in many instances.

“I first came here in August to register my child [who is seven] for grade one, but I was told she cannot register without a registration fee. It is R500 and Zodiac [Primary] wanted cash,” said a parent.

Argentina Malinyane said her daughter, who was supposed to have started grade eight, was being barred from Azara Secondary because she had never studied Afrikaans in her previous school and not because the relevant class was full.

“The department has not received any complaints about fees and the ability to speak or write Afrikaans. Any such issue — will be investigated and addressed,” Phahlane said.

During a community march to Sharicrest Primary, principal Kay Thandrand stood his ground against accepting more grade one learners in a school that already had between 40 and 42 learners per classroom.

“I can’t take 45 children in my class. My teachers will revolt against me, they won’t teach,” Thandrand told parents.

“Grade one is full. We were supposed to cap it at 38 per class, but we’re now at 42,” he said.

Before referring the M&G to the south district for comment this week, Thandrand said admission problems were the result of the late influx of children from rural areas. “We will always have this problem because people come from the rural areas in January and want to register. The department is supposed to place them,” he said.

The admission problems in Lenasia are not new and should have been addressed already, said Salim Vally, the director of the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Education Rights and Transformation. He said the provincial department was failing to fulfil its mandate to provide places in schools, as required by national policy. “People [in Thembelihle] are frustrated because year after year it’s the same story.”