ECape pupils: ‘Teachers hit us until our hands bleed’

Pupils at an Eastern Cape school, plagued for years by abusive and frequently absent teachers, appalling hostel facilities and a lack of textbooks, have joined 2012's flood of litigants in pursuit of the right to basic education.

Palesa Manyokole, a grade 11 pupil at Moshesh Senior Secondary School, and her mother, Madimo Mouthloali, have filed an application in the Bisho High Court asking it to declare that the conditions at the school violate pupils' constitutional right to adequate schooling.

They are joined by non-governmental organisation Equal Education in their application and are supported by nine other pupils, who also filed affidavits. Moshesh Senior is in rural Queen's Mercy Village near Matatiele, outside Kokstad. It has about 310 pupils and 12 teachers.

"Many grade 10 and 11 pupils … have likely failed the end-of-year exams because we did not have sufficient teachers for all of our subjects for several months in the 2012 academic year," Manyokole said in her founding affidavit.

Some teachers "come to school intoxicated", and "often teachers do not arrive at all", she said.

Telile Manyokole, a grade 11 pupil, said in her supporting affidavit that, on occasion, "pupils have had to fetch teachers from their homes and urge them to come to school to teach".

Equal Education chairperson Yoliswa Dwane described Moshesh Senior as the "worst case of mismanagement at a school we've ever seen".

Inadequate response
The Eastern Cape education department's response to Equal Education's numerous letters has been "wholly inadequate", Precillar Moyo, the Equal Education Law Centre attorney who is representing the applicants, told the Mail & Guardian.

"The organisation wrote to the department in June and it received a report from the district director about the school in October, which did not address the core issues at all," she said. "Approaching court was the last resort."

Because there are not enough textbooks, some pupils are forced to share them. "When we have homework, I either make two sets of answers, one for him [a pupil with whom she shares books] and one for me, or I let him copy my homework in the morning," Palesa Manyokole said.

A Grade 10 pupil, Dillo Pharoe, said in his supporting affidavit "teachers hit us with sticks and dusters… until our hands bleed".

Grade 12 pupils are told to stay in the school's "derelict" hostel to avoid wasting time travelling the long distances to and from their homes, but the hostel has no teachers or any supervision and the school does not supply the pupils with bedding, cooking facilities or ablution facilities. Manyokole said some of the doors could not be locked and there was no perimeter fence, making pupils ­"easily accessible to criminal elements from the school or surrounding areas".

Some windows are broken and part of the roof is badly damaged. There is no electricity, so at night the pupils study by candlelight.

A matric pupil, Reatile Leoatle, said in her supporting affidavit that she had to bath in a basin in front of other girls in the hostel and at night she "used a basin to go to the toilet … [S]ometimes a boy would come to the girls' hostel at night and have sex with his girlfriend whilst we were in there."

Mysterious
Because of conditions such as these, pupils frequently fail tests and exams, but even when they receive good marks, their reports sometimes mysteriously reflect something else.

Masikhoane Mahlapha said in her affidavit that she had passed all her June exams, but failed the December exams. She "did not understand it because my marks were fine. My tourism paper showed that I had passed very well, but on my report I had failed".

"Many learners are made to repeat grades at Moshesh and sometime we get different reports for the same term," she said.

Manyokole said: "Sometimes pupils do not get reports and sometimes we get more than one report for the same term which contains different results for the same subjects."

The applicants are asking the court to order the provincial and national education departments to provide funds for the provision of ­teachers, textbooks and to renovate the school's hostel. It is also wants the court to direct the departments to institute a catch-up plan for grade 10 and 11 pupils who, because of a lack of resources, did not complete this year's syllabus.

The provincial education department did not reply to questions by the time of going to print and the national department declined to comment. Both are expected to indicate this week whether they will oppose the case.

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