Parents dig in as Northern Areas school closures enter third week

FEBRUARY 5, 2016

There seems to be no end insight to the ongoing school shutdown in Port Elizabeth's troubled Northern Areas, which has entered its third week on Friday. On Thursday, Port Elizabeth public order police had their hands full as violence flared up after a group of angry parents blocked roads and burnt tyres in Arcadia.

Early this week, there had been standoffs between police and angry parents at the Port Elizabeth offices of the Eastern Cape Department of Education in Sidwell on Monday - the same day the Eastern Cape Education District Executive Committee (DEXCO) visited the Port Elizabeth education district, with the purpose of helping fast-treck and resolve issues relating to the functionality of schools in this district while also re-enforcing on the work of the started by its Task Team. 

On Wednesday, a small group picketed outside Westville High School - the same day the ECDOE announced that it had appointed 98 teachers in the Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage district to address teacher shortages.

Calls for parents to dig in until the ECDOE meets all their demands have also continued to make rounds.

During its Special Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) meeting on Saturday in King Williams Town, the South African Communist Party (SACP) in the Eastern Cape added its voice to concerns about the school closures and appealed to parents to let their children attend school while their grievances are addressedRead more on this, click HERE.

Last week Wednesday, Eastern Cape Premier, Pumulo Masaulle, during a meeting with his Executive Council in Bhisho called on the matter to be resolved. The Premier in January formed a task team to address the demands of the parents but a breakthrough has not yet been made - costing local learners two weeks of schooling. A bad start to the new academic year for local matrics. Read more on this, click HERE.

On the 14th of January, parents, led by the Northern Areas Education Forum (NAEF), which represents parents and SGBs from the area, agreed to shut down 52 schools in protests over unresolved teacher shortages and other education-related problems.

The following Monday, the situation was reportedly calm but tense as a few children trickled to a few schools that did not close while public order police and other emergency personnel maintained a heavy presence in the area. 

That same same day, there were also calls to occupy the offices of the Eastern Cape Department of Education in Port Elizabeth.

A meeting was held on the evening at Sanctor High, in Gelvandale, which agreed to push forward with the protest until Wednesday, when another meeting would be held to review the protest.

On the following Tuesday, the Eastern Cape Education Department appealed to qualified educators to apply for employment to fill the 1 665 level 1 vacant posts in its 23 education districts - including Port Elizabeth. Read more on this, click HERE.

That same day, NAEF representatives were scheduled to meet with representatives from the Eastern Cape Department of Education over their grievances.

Nothing tangible came out of the meeting as on Wednesday night, parents agreed again to continue with the schools shutdown until Monday next week when they will meet again to re-evaluate the situation.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Nelson Mandela Bay accused Eastern Cape Education MEC, Mandla Makupula, of “providing lip service” instead of taking action regarding the closure of the schools. Read more on this, click HERE.

Again on Wednesday, African National Congress (ANC) Member of the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature (MPL), Christian Martin, laid charges against the Eastern Cape Department of Education in connection with the school closures. Read more on this, click HERE.

Calls from political parties to the parents that they open the schools while their grievances are being looked into have fallen on deaf ears. Some parents have also taken to social media saying that the school closures were not the solution and would only affect their children - taking into consideration how the pass mark dropped by about 20% in the area in 2015.

Issues unresolved from 2015

Last year, in July, a similar shutdown called on by the NAEF, turned violent and police had to disperse protesters, who were barricading roads, with teargas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and by water cannon.

In the end, local learners missed school for almost two weeks.

Addressing the media following a meeting to quell the protests, MEC Makapula said that his department was working to address the shortage of teachers. 

"This year, Port Elizabeth has been in the news due to a shortage of educators emanating from natural attrition and resignations, including promotions," he said. 

"We had initially given this district 173 post to address this and 124 were filled. In addition, in May this year we gave the district 122 posts to fill all other vacant posts, following an audit on the shortage of teachers."

He said the shortages were for Afrikaans-speaking teachers in Maths, Science and the Foundation Phase. 

"In most of the schools in the northern area, the language of instruction is Afrikaans," he said. 

"Out of 122 posts, only 55 were appointed as of last week and schools are still submitting [their numbers]. Numbers might have changed as I am sitting here."

He said the problem of non-payment of teachers was being addressed. 

"All teachers who have done their work must be paid." 

Makapula said the department identified 213 teachers that were not paid. Of that figure, 177 would be paid by August 8. 

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality also announced that it had allocated R6.4 million to hire 330 caretakers, secretaries and security guards that the schools lacked.






Image: Public order police in Gelvandale during the school closures in the Northern Areas in July 2015.