9 January 2019

South Africa: Mfuleni Leaders Detain Principals in Spat With Education Department

Mfuleni community leaders detained several school principals for most of the day on Monday, using them as a bargaining chip in disagreements with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).

A meeting was held between the community leaders and the principals at the Chris Hani Community Hall in Mfuleni. The meeting started at 10am, ostensibly to discuss new schools, Tsita Primary School and Manzomthombo High School. But instead, the community leaders prevented the principals from leaving until 4pm after a drawn-out discussion.

When GroundUp arrived at the hall Thembekile Gqwerha, Chairperson of Mfuleni Education Forum, said: "One of the leaders has left with the keys to the gate, so we can't allow you in. We are waiting for the officials to come and talk to us." (Nevertheless, this reporter was let in.)

Simphiwe Kuze, a principal of Mzamomtsha Primary School, said the detainment had disrupted his plans for school readiness. "We could not work at all today," he said. "I was supposed to draw up class lists so learners could know where their classrooms are when they arrive on Wednesday."

The dispute is over staff appointments by the WCED at Mfuleni schools. The department hired two principals to administer a new primary school and a high school that are expected to begin operating in April.

"The steering committee responsible for the construction of the two schools has not been consulted about the employment of the two principals," said Gqwerha. "There are people who stay in Mfuleni who are qualified to fill the posts, but the department has overlooked them."

"We are not going to work with the two principals. They will work at the department's offices, not in Mfuleni," said Gqwerha.

Following Monday's events, a meeting was organised in Parow between WCED officials and the Mfuleni Education Forum. The WCED, however, has stood firm on its appointments. Deputy Director-General Archie Lewis said the department would not restart the selection process as it had been done according to departmental rules. "The decision to appoint all teachers rests with the education department," he said.

Lewis explained that the appointment of school staff is done in conjunction with school governing bodies but the department hired the principals itself because the two schools don't have governing bodies yet.

Discussions also deadlocked over a demand that a Metro North District circuit manager stop working with Mfuleni schools. Gqwerha said: "We don't want him in our community."

Lewis said the official would continue to work in Mfuleni as the department hired him to do so. He did however say that he would respond to the demands of the community leaders later.

There was also a dispute over the location of the two new schools. Currently, the two prefab institutions are located in Silversands, about 5km from Mfuleni. But the forum wants the schools relocated to Mfuleni. Schools in Mfuleni are overcrowded and this has resulted in protests in previous years.

Salie Abrahams, Acting Deputy Director-General of the WCED, said the department is discussing with the City of Cape Town possible land to relocate the schools to.

"We are going to lease land from the City. We will relocate the schools to Mfuleni, but it will depend on how fast we get land there," he said.

Abrahams said the department started to build the schools in Silversands in June 2018 but it stopped after the community leaders demanded that they be moved to Mfuleni. "The land was all we had and it was the best option in the interim," he said.

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