16 July 2012

South Africa: ANC Protests Over Western Cape School Closures

Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran/UN
The initial number of school closures was 27 and the aim is to improve opportunities for learners by placing them in schools that are better equipped to provide quality education.

The African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape has called for education MEC Donald Grant to be fired following his closure of 15 under-performing schools in the province, and the possible closure of 27 more.

During a picket outside the offices of Premier Helen Zille, official opposition leader in the Western Cape, Marius Fransman said the ANC would also oppose the further proposed closures of the schools in court if necessary.

Surrounded by about 40 ANC members at the picket on Cape Town's Wale Street, Fransman alleged that the closures were racist and aimed to divide black communities by pushing learners out of their neighbourhoods and forcing them to attend schools elsewhere.

He claimed the closed schools would be sold to private investors.

Grant's spokesperson Bronagh Casey denied such claims.

She said the reasons for the possible closures differed for each school. In some instances school infrastructure was crumbling but the school was on land the province did not own so they could not invest money in fixing the buildings, yet better-resourced schools "down the road" were half-empty.

In other cases a number of schools in one area had only 50% or less of the learners they could cater for, so it made sense to fill one school rather than run two or more that were functioning under capacity.

Casey said the closure of 27 schools was "not a done deal" as a public participation process still had to occur, with Grant only to make his final decision in September or October this year.

Should all 27 schools be closed, 4 000 learners would be affected, but the Department would have to ensure that each one of those learners was better catered for than previously, she said.

But Fransman's message to Grant yesterday was, "fall on your sword or we will go to the High Court."

The campaign against school closures was not only being championed by the ANC, said Fransman. He said they had visited various communities across the province who had been angered by the school closures.

Among the placards being held at the picket were those that read: 'DA honours Madiba's 27 years in prison by closing down 27 schools', 'Why kill our children's future?', and 'Donald Duck must be fired'.

In a WCED statement released yesterday Casey said the ANC's claim that the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) had closed down more schools than it had opened was "factually incorrect".

She said the department had closed 15 schools since Grant took office, but had built 23 new ones and replaced eight which had been built with inappropriate materials.

The new schools accommodated an additional 27 000 learners and the renovated schools catered for 9 600 learners, she said.

"We have clearly built more schools to accommodate more learners than we have closed schools affecting learners. The allegations made by the ANC are again false and baseless.

"The ANC's allegations and claims are part of a wide campaign to discredit Minister Grant who has a proven track record of service delivery."

Yet ANC provincial secretary Songezo Mjongile said the school closures were discriminatory.

Mjongile said as an example the WCED wanted to close down a "well resourced" school in Woodstock where 80% of the learners attending the school came from the townships.

He alleged that the main reason for the closure of the Woodstock school was because very few local kids were attending classes there.

He complained that many parents from the townships were "sacrificing" a lot of money on transport and food in order to send their kids to this school yet the department wanted close it down.

He called on Grant to halt the closures and launch a "scientific investigation" into the causes of reduced numbers of learners in some of the schools he had targeted.

He suggested that one of the causes of reduced learner numbers at schools could be poverty, as for instance at farm schools children often dropped out early in order to earn money for the family.

Rather than closing down farm schools, such problems could be addressed through joint efforts with other departments such as that of Social Development.

He also criticised the WCED for failing to provide enough Maths and Science teachers in township schools.

He alleged that in most of these institutions learners were forced to study physics yet they did not have science laboratories in which to conduct experiments.

Asked to comment on the recent text book debacles in Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces were the ANC was in charge, he said he could not comment on such matters as he had "no control over that environment".

"I have control over my environment," he said, highlighting that as the opposition in the province, their duty was to ensure that black children received quality education.

Last week various youth formations from across the province protested outside the legislature calling on Premier Helen Zille to stop the proposed school closures and address other issues affecting the youth in the province.

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