Gauteng schools feel the pressure to place more than 700 000 primary and secondary school pupils.
16-year-old Busisiwe Maclean stays in Thembelihle, the troubled informal settlement located southwest of Johannesburg, and is battling to find a school in the area.
Maclean is one of about 60 pupils in Thembelihle yet to be placed in school. The pupils, who tried to find schools in the neighbouring Lenasia – the suburb closest to Thembelihle – are still not in school, three weeks after having reopened.
The area faces problems of admission almost every year. In 2012 the Mail & Guardian reported that almost 50 pupils from Thembelihle were without a school when the year started.
After battling to find a school in Lenasia last year, Maclean, who is supposed to start grade 11 this year, enrolled at a school in Orange Farm, a township more than 20km from Lenasia. But the transportation problems she faced made her look for a school closer to home, she told the M&G.
Maclean used the "unreliable" yet "affordable" Metrorail trains to get to school, she said. "Trains would delay [Thembelihle learners shuttling to Orange Farm] by more than an hour," she said. "Quite often I got to class after the second period had started.
"Sometimes I didn't have money for the train ticket. I missed exams in June because of not having money. My mother doesn't work and my father does piece jobs."
Focusing on her studies
Maclean is fearful that if she were to enrol at an Orange Farm school again this year, schools in Lenasia will not accept her for matric. "I have to go to a school nearer this year so that I can focus on my studies."
Maclean told the M&G that she applied for a place at Moses Maren Mission Technical Secondary School, in Lenasia – less than 3km from Thembelihle. The school placed her on its books but "in December they said there was no space", she said.
Community activists told the M&G that the technical secondary school was one of the "overloaded" schools in Lenasia. "Classes in that school are overcrowded," Bhayzer Miya, a leader of the Thembelihle Crisis Committee, said.
Since schools reopened, Maclean and other unplaced pupils of Thembelihle have been looking for space in nearby schools.
"I've gone to many schools around Lenasia. They are saying there is no space in their classes anymore," Maclean said.
'Missing out on schoolwork'
The unplaced pupils are "missing out" on schoolwork, she said. "Learners have done a lot of work already. Some have had assignments, while we wake up each morning to wear uniforms and go look for schools.
"They say education is the key to success, but we find it difficult to find space in schools. We don't know where to go to get education," said Maclean.
A list compiled today by activists who have taken up the matter, counted 51 unplaced pupils across different grades. "The list can grow in coming days because there are parents who do not know we're mobilising," said Thembelihle Crisis Committee's Siphiwe Mbatha.
Activists managed to secure placement for nine pupils in grades two, three, four and six in Zodiac Primary.
But it was surprising that Zodiac suddenly had space for some pupils, because it had been turning them away over previous weeks, said Nhlakanipho Lukhele, also a community activist. "The school only accepted children because we marched here as a group. All along the school has been demanding [R550] before it can register the children," said Lukhele.
Lack of space
Despite this, none of the 15 grade one pupils could be accommodated in Zodiac owing to space. Mosotho Tsotetsi, chairperson of the school's governing body, said the children should be shared among the three primary schools in Lenasia.
"I'm convening a meeting with school governing bodies to sort out admissions, especially the problem of grade one learners. Why don't we each take five of these learners? We can't deny them their right to education," Tsotetsi told the M&G.
Some parents admitted to having applied to schools for their children late. The deadline for admissions in Gauteng was July 27 2012. Children who enrolled after this date were placed on waiting lists compiled by districts.
Parents expressed losing confidence in the district. "We've been going to the district and calling them every day. This week their phones were not working," said a parent who asked not to be named.
The Gauteng department of education had not responded to the M&G's questions before this article was published.