Johannesburg - The 2014 school year got off to a smooth start, with a few tears but no major glitches on Wednesday.
Almost all textbooks were delivered on time, basic education department spokesman Panyaza Lesufi said.
Ninety-nine percent of textbooks had been delivered to schools on time, with the rest expected within 10 days.
These outstanding books were the result of slight mismatches in the language of the books with the number of pupils at particular schools.
Lesufi said the department was “very happy” with the state of readiness for the academic year.
“Things went smoothly, the only limitation is that in parts of Gauteng in particular, there were some late registrations,” he said.
These were the result of parents waiting until the first day of school to find places for their children.
At Faresani Primary School in Soweto, some children said tearful farewells to their parents before beginning their first day of “big school”.
One girl, smiling bravely, said: “I want to go back to crèche”.
Another Grade One pupil said she was ready to face the year ahead.
“I got lunch, money, and tissues in my bag.”
In Pimville Zone Five, Soweto, Zodwa Mfusi walked her daughter Mbali, six, to Mdela Hlongwane Primary School.
Mbali was very excited about her new school uniform and school bag.
Her mother said: “She's very happy and excited. She couldn't wait to start writing.”
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga visited the Ponelopele Oracle Secondary School in Midrand on Wednesday morning. Motlanthe urged the pupils to take education seriously as it was the only way to deal with inequalities in society.
“We live in an unequal society and education is the best equaliser.”
Seventeen new schools were opened in Gauteng on Wednesday. Education MEC Barbara Creecy officially opened one of them, the Palm Ridge Secondary School, and visited two other schools.
She said parents needed to take an active role in their children's education.
“Parents' active involvement in the life of their children is of utmost importance,” she said.
Democratic Alliance Gauteng education spokesman Khume Ramulifho also visited schools on Wednesday morning. He called on the department to prioritise infrastructure development, after Noordgesig Primary and Secondary Schools suffered water damage due to leaking roofs.
Western Cape education MEC Donald Grant visited Fairview Primary School in Cape Town, one of three newly constructed schools, to welcome Grade One pupils.
Over 950 000 pupils attended the first day of school in the province, and around 100 000 of these were new enrolments for Grade One.
The Economic Freedom Fighters encouraged pupils to persevere with their education to break the cycle of poverty.
“Above all, government must ensure no one is excluded from school because they cannot pay fees or because they do not have school uniform,” EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said in a statement.
KwaZulu-Natal culture MEC Ntombikayise Sibhidla-Saphetha visited schools in the Ilembe District to assess levels of readiness, and expressed satisfaction that learning materials had arrived on time.
The school still faced problems of pupils arriving late, as it mainly served disadvantaged communities, and many pupils had to travel far to get to the school.
“The MEC has assured the school that all the challenges that have been raised will be addressed because already the department of education has a scholar transport programme in place,” her spokesman Mluleki Mntungwa said.
A car accident in Pietermaritzburg delayed the return to school of five pupils, aged between eight and 12. Spokeswoman for ER24
paramedics Luyanda Majija said the children were being taken to school on the back of a bakkie when its brakes apparently failed, causing it to collide with a car. The children were treated for minor injuries.
Around the country, many parents expressed more anxiety than their children at school gates.
At St Cyprian's School in Cape Town, six-year-old Madison Eskinazi said she was excited at the prospect of starting her Grade One lessons. Madison's mom Sarhan Brophy-Eskinazi said she was a bit more nervous.
“Madison was fine and very determined to carry her own bag which made me cry just a little bit.”