The lack of Afrikaans teachers caused a week-long closure of schools in “coloured” areas of Port Elizabeth.
Protests that started in Port Elizabeth’s Northern Areas recently left the schools with no choice but to close their doors and send pupils home for safety.
Major roads were barricaded and this left a trail of damaged infrastructure as criminals pounced on the opportunity and vandalised property.
What started as a simple placard demonstration by concerned parents over the lack of sufficient Afrikaans speaking teachers at some 33 schools, ended up with a traumatised and fractured community. The schools shutdown, unprecedented since 1994 resulted in pupils losing eight days of their academic calendar.
Eastern Cape Education MEC, Mandla Makupula and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro Executive mayor, Danny Jordaan were called upon to answer to the parents, learners and the community.
The MEC pledged 45 Afrikaans medium teachers to immediately plug the gap. This is however despite that Makupula had earlier given the district 173 teaching posts, of which 124 posts were taken up.
In May, the MEC gave the district a further 122 posts of which 67 remained vacant.
The Northern Areas Education Forum (NAEF) an organisation that lead the protests said that education was every child’s right and compelled the department to prioritize the welfare of pupils.
NAEF is a community based organisation that aims to highlight and address problems plaguing public schools in the area.
It comprises of parents, teachers, principals and Schools Governing Bodies (SGB).
NAEF Chairman and West End primary school principal, Ronald Matthys, explained that the area has for long been lacking Afrikaans medium teachers.
“For schools to submit appointment documents to the education department, they needed to have actual teachers to appoint. Where are these teachers meant to come from?” he asked.
Matthys contended that the problem had been bedeviling the Northern Areas for a long time. “The biggest problem is that there are not enough available teachers fitting the profiles needed in most schools. Thus a shortage of Afrikaans medium teachers in a number of subjects,” complained Matthys.
This was also supported by NAEF secretary and Bethvale primary school SGB chairman, Richard Draai, who accused the department of ignoring the Forum’s pleas in June.
He said they met Jordaan in June where the schools’ grievances were tabled before him but according to Draai nothing substantial was achieved from the meeting.
“The picket was only meant for a handful of parents. It was meant to be peaceful, with parents holding placards, but the police fired rubber bullets and teargas and then the criminal element took over. We pleaded to be heard and yet we heard nothing. We did everything in our power to prevent what happened.”
Draai said in subsequent meetings with the officials from the Department they even raised concerns that negatively affected the smooth running of education in the district. They discussed shortage of teachers at the affected schools, the non-payment of teachers and also wanted clarity on the moratorium placed on employing non-teaching staff at schools like caretakers, secretaries, security guards and cleaning staff.
What also riled principals was the department’s uncompromising position as it played the blame game.
The department accused principals of not submitting request letters for teachers on time, something that principals vehemently denied.
Meanwhile, Makupula gave authority to principals to fill in the vacant posts. “Appoint teachers. I have given you the authority to do this. Find those teachers. We have long given you a go ahead for schools to appoint,” said Makupula.
NMBM mayor, Danny Jordaan urged parents to take their children’s education seriously. “Lets not disrupt our children’s future, there are other ways to raise your concerns without using violence and school closures. The most important period is examinations, every day loss will impact on their examinations,” he said.
Makupula castigated and threatened some community members and school officials who use schools as places to score their political goals.
“I want to appeal to the communities of this District to work with me to ensure that this matter or situation never happens again. I want to categorically state that no one has the right to close schools no matter what. I have an open door policy to address any matter as such anyone found doing such next time will face the wrath of the law.”