Parents and learners of Uitsig High School are planning a march to voice concerns about the Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) decision to close the school and relocate learners and staff to new premises. In response to concerns by community members, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has called on the department not to close the Elsies River based school and has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission (SAHCR) to step in.
Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat, COSATU’s Tony Ehrenreich explains that while there are problems at the school, the school boasts five new classrooms, four of which parents repaired last year.
He says that given the fact that the school currently has 200 leaners, who collectively obtained a 75 per cent pass rate in 2016, the school has cause to remain open.
“This is the only high school in the area that has three primary schools and the number of learners completely justifies why the school must be here,” Ehrenreich stated.
The WCED, Ehrenreich asserts, has undermined the safety and security of the school, which has resulted in the water and electricity being cut, further noting that the constitutional rights of the children was not adhered to.
“We believe that the children have a right to school, especially if it’s a matter that has only been brought to the attention of the learners and the community at the start of this year, when the department allowed the school to be non-functional for over a year, because there was no water. The parents themselves repaired the water only at a cost of R1000.”
He states that the provincial government has alternative plans for the land, which it is now attempting to close.
“That has been confirmed to us through collaboration between the school, the principal of the school, leadership, the WCED and the criminals in the community, who have been undermining the viability of the school.”
Ehrenreich confirmed that a meeting was held last Wednesday, between community members and the department.
Community members voiced their concerns and requested that the department not close the schools doors, but indicated how the school could remain usable.
“The Education Department is just intent on closing it and despite the fact that the community painted the school over the weekend, there has been no response.”
While the department has provided security at the school, Ehrenreich notes that the security is under-resourced; “they don’t have air-time to call the police when the criminals come to strip the school of the wiring.”
Given reports that premier Helen Zille has been named as having ordered the closure of the school, he says parents and students chose to walk to the premier’s office in an attempt to call attention to their concerns.
“It is out of desperation that the learners are again sacrificing a day to go to the Education Department, because the Education Department is not coming to them.”
The march was scheduled for Tuesday morning, where learners plan to request Zille to intervene urgently.
In addition, COSATU filed an application with the South African Human Rights Commission, which was scheduled to visit the school on Tuesday.
“So we have followed all the institutional support mechanisms within our society to make sure the constitutional rights of children to have proper education, to help them against the problems of gangsterism and to realise their education convictions, and we believe the department is infringing on those rights.”
Ehrenreich further stated that while COSATU has been dealing with the issues relating to Uitsig High School, through its research the union has discovered that in general schools on the Cape Flats are treated with the same disregard by the WCED.
“When we did a comparison between the schools in Claremont and the schools in Khayelitsha, there is huge disparities in funding, resources and the education opportunities…It seems the department, with the go ahead of the premier, does not regard these matters as urgent, whereas she does for the learning conditions of the wealthy and mainly white kids in the suburbs.”[NB: The Education Department was unavailable for comment]