Doors of learning shut by budget cuts

Parents and learners queuing outside the Metro East District Office in Kuilsriver hoping that their children will be placed.

Parents and learners hope that they will be placed in schools this year despite deep cuts in the education budget.

Long snaking queues of parents and learners outside the four education district offices in the Cape Town metropolitan area have become a common sight since the start of the week. According to a statement by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in the Western Cape released on Monday, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) is looking to place 688 late applications that have come through this month. When Elitsha visited the Metro East Education District on Thursday morning, there were about 300 people queuing outside. A security guard at the gate told Elitsha that there were more than 1,000 people on Tuesday and about 700 on Wednesday.

Some of the parents that spoke to Elitsha shared the challenges they face getting their children into school, some of whom have had to move from the Eastern Cape while others cited problems with the admission system with several saying they did not have access to the internet to apply for their children.

Asemahle Nonco who was with her son, Lulonwabo, said that she applied last year for a Grade 1 placement in Westville or Rocklands primary schools in Mitchells Plain but was told that their application is not on the system. “I then decided that I can’t sit at home and wait; it is best to come to this district to make an application,” she said.

Five-year old, Jadene Williams was playing at her mother’s feet with no worry in the world as her mother, Yolanda, narrated how she struggled to access the internet and complete the application. “I’m hoping that we get a place for my son. We want to apply for Grade R in Wesbank,” she said.

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Ziyanda Mfiki’s son, Lisa, had to relocate to Cape Town from Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape following the death of his guardian. “His grandfather passed away in December and the application process was already closed by then and we are here to make an application for Grade 10. We have been to schools in Stellenbosch and Durbanville and today we are here,” she said.

Another learner who had to relocate from the Eastern Cape is Esethu Mbuje. Esethu was with his mother, Yonela, trying to enrol for Grade 8 in a Cape Town school.

Austerity measures impact education

The SAHRC has decried austerity measures that have been implemented by the Department of Basic Education because they will have devastating effects on education and the department’s ability to accommodate late applications to schools. “Following budget reductions across all state-funded institutions and departments, plans to build schools to meet the expected demand could not be carried out. As a result, the annual drive to assist in placing learners from other provinces wishing to attend schools in the Western Cape and late applicants from the Western Cape will be even more difficult than usual. The current fiscal climate, which has entailed belt tightening across the board, has far-reaching implications. The WCPO will continue its monitoring of the placement process and intervene where threats to the enjoyment of the right to education are detected,” said the Western Cape Provincial Office of the SAHRC in a statement on Monday.

The WCED said that they are doing their best to accommodate late applications. “We are doing everything we can to build new schools at a faster rate than ever before through our Rapid School Build programme, despite a massive R716.4-million blow to our education budget in the Western Cape. Our officials and contractors have worked hard throughout the holiday period to ensure that we expand the number of places available for the learners we’ve already received applications for, and to prepare for the expected extremely late applications received since 1 January 2024,” said MEC for Education in the Western Cape, David Maynier.

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In December last year, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in the Western Cape released a statement rejecting the areas where the WCED was seeking to cut costs. The union said that they do not agree on employing substitute teachers for educators who are on maternity leave. The teachers union is also against the doing away of substitute teachers “who are acting in a School Management Team (SMT) capacity, except for principal positions”. Sadtu, according to the statement, “disagrees with filling all Post Level 1 vacancies through a formal vacancy list”.

“With the current backlog in the filling of posts, this will place a bigger burden on the recruitment and selection directorate. We still insist that all Post Level 1 posts are better filled through Section 6A of the Employment of Educators Act,” said provincial secretary, Sibongile Kwazi.

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