In 2007, Angie Motshekga, the then Gauteng MEC for education embarked on an unpopular operation — to close what she called “non-performing schools” in the province. The move angered learners, parents, teachers, unions and even some people in the ANC. Motshekga reasoned that the schools facing closure come January 2008, were schools that were badly managed, didn’t produce desired results and had high dropout rates – in some schools there were less than 100 learners. “They are part of what the (national ANC) education minister (Naledi Pandor) calls non-functional schools,” Motshekga’s spokesperson at the time, Panyaza Lesufi, said. “(MEC Motshekga) has reached a stage where she believes that these schools are just absorbing money and resources of the state, but the end results are absolutely nothing … if we compare the output that we receive, we believe we have no choice but to close down the schools.”
I couldn’t help feel a sense of deja vu when an almost similar situation played itself out recently. But this time in the Western Cape.
The DA is planning to close 30 schools. Provincial education MEC Donald Grant said the reason for the pending decommissioning was the dropout rate, poor attendance and poor performance (the reasons sound familiar). More than 4 000 learners will be moved in this process, along with about 150 teachers, to new schools in or close to the city. The DA claims it has, and still is engaged in public consultation with teachers, parents and learners from various districts where the 27 schools are based. And representations will be considered from there.
But the ANC doesn’t think so. The ruling party and its alliance partners were quick to launch a scathing attack against Helen Zille’s-DA led government as being racist, among other profanities. They likened the shut-down to the “gedwonge verskuiwings” made popular by the oppressive apartheid government. Only poor black and coloured communities are targeted.
“When I heard the news of the letter of the intention by Helen Zille’s government to close down the Bishop Lavis School, among others, I was taken back to a time of the harshness of the apartheid government many of us were forced to grow up under,” said ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman at a community meeting in Bishop Lavis.
And then came Cosatu, threatening to topple the provincial government through mass protest and court cases. “Black schools are not a priority to a government that cares mainly for the needs of the old white schools,” said Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich.
I just can’t believe the hypocrisy of the ANC officials. It was fine when they explained why they were doing it in Gauteng and the other provinces, but not in the Western Cape. And to liken this process to apartheid forced removals is just nothing but grand-standing by Fransman and others. If anything, what I see here is the opposite: kids taken out of the poor-performing township and rural schools and integrated into performing suburban schools. As has been seen in Soweto, if I remember well, the decision was made after most of these kids had already moved to other schools to get a better education. The schools were left with just a handful of learners.
Truth be told this process of shutting down schools in the townships was started by the ANC. A recent report by the education department shows that the ANC shut down more than 4 500 public schools throughout the country. They are actually still looking at closing down more in non-performing provinces such as Limpopo, the North West, Free State and Eastern Cape. In the Eastern Cape an education official was quoted as saying that in the long run, managing more than 500 sub-optimal schools would be untenable. The ANC in Gauteng then, and the DA in the Western Cape now, are allowed under the South African Schools Act to shut down or merge learning institutions if the institution fails to attract or retain educators, inaccessibility of schools or there is a low attendance. This effectively throws out Cosatu’s court threat unless there is convincing reason that the provincial education department acted outside of its mandate and the Constitution. The ANC could learn a thing or two that will help them sort out the education mess in the provinces it runs.
Instead of pointing fingers as we’ve seen with the games by Motshekga over the Limpopo books scandal, the DA owned up to the problem of poor learning conditions at the uMyezo wama Apile Combined School in Grabouw. Earlier this year pupils boycotted class and joined community members in protest for a proper school to be built in the area. Temporary classes are now standing and kids were happy on the first day to come back to new classes with each leaner having a desk and chair of their own.
I don’t really understand why we should always cry racism where there’s none? The racism card is over-used and getting boring. It’s sad when something so emotional is being politicised. We cannot afford to always see everything in black and white. Why not forget about the political parties we belong to and bring our heads together to come up with what will work for our country, for our children? Let’s give the officials in Western Cape a chance, like we gave the ANC a chance in Gauteng and other parts of the country, and see if we cannot jointly save our education system because clearly, as things are now, we need a miracle.