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‘I am ashamed to say I teach at Klipspruit-West school’

The Klipspruit-West Secondary School in Eldorado Park, Gauteng, that was the focus of alleged racial discontent, is still without a principal.

Since being chased away from the school in 2017, the MEC for education in the province, Panyaza Lesufi, has not yet returned to the school. He admits the situation at the school is even worse now but blames residents for the downturn. “The situation has worsened. They don’t have a principal. Sometimes when communities disrupt education, they don’t know the price learners have to pay for their actions.”

In 2019 the South African Human Rights Commission found that protests were against the employment of a black principal. 

Lesufi said residents “don’t want [the] principal” appointed at the school. And the process to appoint a new principal, which started more than three years ago, is in limbo.

“We started the process of placing the old principal in another school. I don’t know how far that process is because we cannot pay somebody who stays home. So the department is trying to place the principal [at a different school] so that the school can then have a vacancy and we can replace the principal,” said Lesufi. 

“You cannot blame us [the department] if you don’t want the principal, or you are the one that disrupted the infrastructure that we have [put] in the school. [They] vandalised the infrastructure that we wanted to improve,” said Lesufi, adding that the department had even arranged armed security guards between 2018 to 2019 to protect teachers and school assets. 

Lesufi said residents were blocking all departmental interventions and “now that the situation is worse, the same community wants to blame the department”.

Klipspruit-West Secondary School has been without a permanent principal since 2014. After serving as principal for more than five years, the temporary principal, Faizel Sallie, was according to teachers, removed by the government allegedly without giving a reason. Since then the school has had acting principles. 

In 2017 Lesufi dismantled the school governing body (SGB). It was reconstituted last week, on 22 April. 

PoliticsWeb reported that in 2017, learners “missed the first day of the third term when parents disrupted classes and locked school gates in protest against the appointment of a black principal”. 

Riaan Niewenhuys, the local leader, chairperson of the Klipspruit West Interaction Centre and a former learner of the school, said: “It is a blatant lie on the part of the department. The functionality of the school is of paramount importance. The school would welcome any principal who’s knowledgeable to turn the school around — even if it is a black principal.

“On several occasions, it was requested that the department of education come out, meet the community and find plausible solutions to what is plaguing the school,” said Niewenhuys. 

A long-term teacher at the school describes the formation of a new SGB as a possible turning point through which to have discussions with residents and appoint a permanent principal. 

But other teachers disagree. One said the school’s management is inadequate and there are no plans for dealing with it. 

A staff member working on the administrative side said the school turned from being one of the top schools in the area 30 years ago to being the problem it is today. The staff member attributes it to the attitude of teachers and the implementation of the so-called appeal process, in which learners are put in the next grade despite not having achieved academically.

In the past 10 years, the school had a 69% performance rate before dropping to 49% in 2020.

Problems hampering progress.

Water leakages, chipped paint, regular power outages caused by electrical faults and a “jungle” for sports grounds are some of the school’s infrastructural problems. 

“The school is dirty and unorganised. I am ashamed to say I teach here,” said one teacher, adding that “the fire extinguishers do not work, teachers don’t clean their classrooms, and learners don’t wear their face masks”.

In mid-April, the Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson for education in Gauteng, Sergio Dos Santos, released a statement saying that “the Gauteng department of education has spent more than R7.9-million on infrastructure projects at the Klipspruit West Secondary School in Soweto, which still remains incomplete”.

According to Santos, Lesufi told the provincial legislature that “all components of the project were successfully completed by the end of August 2020”.
Santos went on to say that this was not the case and challenged Lesufi to “conduct oversight inspection at the school to assess the true status of these projects”.

Niewenhuys said, “The facility is dilapidated. According to the department, the facility has been completed, of which I am against.”

A teacher said that when one leaves the school premises with its double fencing, one is immediately aware of the smuggling houses and shebeens opposite the school. “When learners exit the school grounds, they are only confronted with negative things.” 

The teacher’s words coincide with a former learner, Quincy Africa, who described the area as “drug-infested”. 

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a junior daily news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a freelance journalist and a broadcaster at Maroela Media and Smile90.4FM.

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