The demolition of two Manenberg schools to make room for a new hospital has not gone uncontested. While the Manenberg community is believed to be on-board after being promised a “Skills School”, other stakeholders have questioned the validity of the plans.
The phasing out of pupil intake at Sonderend Primary School and Silverstream High Schools have already begun in preparation for the construction of the new R2.4 billion Klipfontein Regional Hospital.
Secretary-general of the Manenberg Business Forum and co-opted member of the Silverstream High School governing body, Fareed Jansen, explained that the decision followed disagreements with the government. Jansen explained that Sonderend is going to be relocated to Edendale which has dwindling numbers and will form a “super school”.
“This whole process started five years ago. The schools are not closing down. They wanted to close Silver Stream down completely and the steering committee had opposed that. We had meetings and heated discussions and eventually they relented to the proposal of the Manenberg steering committee and the Governing Bodies of Sonderend and Edendale. That’s about 1200 kids with two schools. The site of Old Jooste, was the intended site of Sonderend. We changed that, we had a fight in the premiers office and said we want the Skills School to be built where Old Jooste is.”
Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato and ex-premier Helen Zille are believed to be among the signatories of a November 2018 document which, according to Jansen, commits the City of Cape Town and provincial government to support the business forum and steering committee to ensure the ‘upgrade’ happens.
SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) however disagreed with the demolition of the schools.
“The blame should be squarely at the feet of the provincial government because it is their public works department that deals with infrastructure developments. Breaking down a school is unacceptable!” exclaimed Sadtu provincial chairperson Jonovan Rustin.
Rustin believes that government has “hoodwicked everyone” in relation to the matter.
“There was a consultation meeting called (last year) that a school of skills will be built on the premises of the Silverstream high school, where the Skills School and Silverstream will share the property. Now we hear, to our amazement, that the schools will be closed completely and that the School of Skills will be built on the premises of Jooste hospital and that the hospital will be built on that particular site. We feel that the provincial government has just been grossly dishonest in terms of what their plans were for the hospital,” he said.
Western Cape Progressive Professionals Forum (WC PPF) also condemned the move citing Manenberg’s notorious reputation for being plagued by gangsterism.
“Education is one shot at recalibrating the social condition of the community, thereby ensuring that children from disadvantaged background don’t grow up to be disadvantaged themselves,” read a statement by the WC PPF.
The Education Sub Committee further accused the Democratic Alliance (DA) of poor governance.
“The DA once again clearly shows a lack of understanding and knowledge of communities such as Manenberg and continues to make decisions without proper engagement with these affected communities. Weighing education against health is an unfortunate choice the DA government is giving the community, because access to health is as important to the community and none should come at the expense of the other,” it said in a statement.
Jansen maintained that the schools, which have an estimated 1 200 students, will benefit.
“Only in 2021, these schools will take their properties and move directly in to a new school so there is going to be no disruption for education of these kids. The whole school will just be moved over to the new school. One phased out, a new one phased in.”
The Manenberg Business Forum’s Jansen said one of the schools received a letter that it was going to be shut down last year. The opposing parties then emphasized that the South African Schools Act was not complied with which gave them in-roads to a proposal.
“That’s was our point where we said “you didn’t follow the rules so you can’t close the school.” There were times where they said (other schools) will be closed but we changed all that and said this is our proposal. And amazingly, everything that’s happening now is exactly the way the steering committee planned it.”
Jansen highlighted what the “skills school” would imply, adding that it would benefit the community.
“Silver steam only has grade 10, 11 and 12 but they are already being phased out, but on the same premises. The skills school has already started its their first year of academic training. They’re already preparing to do life skills like upholstery, carpentry and hairdressing. In 2020 they are expecting another 100 and a year after that another 100, meaning those kids will go into the school,” said Jansen.
SADTU’s Rustin however pointed out that Silver Stream High carries sentimental weight in that it was the first high school in the area.
“The school probably has enrollment of 200 learners which at this point doesn’t justify having a school there. But it was a strategic plan to bleed the school dry so that it could actually implement this plan,“ said Rustin.
Jansen explained that the hospital required a seven hectare piece of land and, according to his account, the “only land that was available is where the schools are currently built.”
“Jooste was designed to have an upgrade. But it was instead decided to rebuild a bigger regional hospital. It will have all the facilities and it will take the pressure of Grooter Schuur and Redcross.”
SADTU’s Rustin criticized why a different plot was needed it the first place.
“We are actually livid about how this was handled. It causes huge amount of uncertainty for teachers because now the students will be moved. With Sonderend there was always a promise of a school bring built and teachers were waiting for years. Now to be told the school will be demolished to make room for the hospital… what’s wrong with the site where Jooste is currently?”
The PPF shared the same sentiment, throwing Zille under scrutiny.
“The GF Jooste Hospital site is already zoned, already on the transport routes and convenient and was serving the communities of Manenberg, Gugulethu and surrounds even contributing to social cohesion and integration of previously separate communities before being unexpectedly and inexplicably shut down by the DA Government under Helen Zille. Has something happened to this site to make it unsuitable?”
The statement placed doubt on the reasoning behind demolishing the schools.
“The two schools are being bulldozed to clear a site for a new hospital to serve the same purpose as the very hospital that the DA closed, again without public participation or engagement. While any new hospital is welcomed, particularly in areas which services the poor and underprivileged, one must question if this must come at the cost of a high school and primary school serving those very communities.”
Despite a contentions, Jansen maintained that parents are in favour of the project.
“The parents are satisfied, after a few (teething problems) in the beginning with pricing and so on. The school will be a pilot project that will be adapted according to needs of the people. What we intend to do is (have) the people of Manenberg to be maximum involved in the building and rebuilding of the place so they can have a sense of ownership. If he lays the brick there, he’s not going to steal the brick.
Jansen highlighted that the students at the combined primary schools can be “groomed and formed to go to the skills schools”, which in turn will combat unemployment and gangsterism in the area
“We’re talking about a school where children will leave and will be employable. We’ve got a lot of kids out of school, these kids are then vulnerable to join gangs. The gangs don’t even ask anymore, they join because they’re bored and they have nothing to do. With the Skills School we want to reduce the number of kids that go out onto the streets and do nothing. This will tackle the unemployment and at the same time the gangsterism, because you can’t fight gangs you have to reduce the numbers that join them.”
Rustin however pointed to the gap between private and public schools being too large having said government is failing students.
“There is place in ex-model C schools (for unplaced students) but these school communities are just resistant to take more learners. Our township leaners have to have 60/70 in a class because ex-model C schools want to have the privilege of small classes. Therefore we think the provincial government is failing our learners in the province.”
The school is expected to be called Silver Stream Skills Academy and building is planned to started at the end of this year.
Both SADTU and the WC PPF have since urged the provincial government to reconsider the decision to close the schools, and for the hospital to be built on the GF Jooste Hospital site.