Cape Town - It’s just after 9am on a school day in Wallacedene. Classes started an hour ago, but many children are roaming the streets and the taxi rank. Others are playing in a park, or at home.
Some are truant, but others say their parents have not yet enrolled them in school. Some have never been to school.
The Cape Argus visited the area during school hours over two days last week and spoke to more than 20 children not in class. There were more, but not all were willing to talk to us.
A 12-year-old boy, sitting outside a shop run from a shipping container, couldn’t remember the last time he had been to school. He told resident Nora Tafafene that at one point he was in Grade 1 at Imvumelwano Primary.
During school hours, Tafafene takes care of children whose parents claim they have been unable to find places for them in local schools. By Thursday, she was taking care of 15 of them.
The boy told her he sat at the shop because the owner gave him food.
A few of the children on the streets all gave the same reason for not being in school: they arrived in Wallacedene over the festive season to visit family, but haven’t returned to the Eastern Cape because their parents couldn’t afford to send them back home.
An 11-year-old girl said she had arrived in November and refused to attend school in the Western Cape.
A brother and sister said they were from De Aar. The girl said the family were on holiday in Wallacedene, but the boy said they had moved there a few weeks ago and their parents had not yet enrolled them in school.
Geraldine Abrahams said her 10-year-old son, André, and her sister, Theresa, 14, had attended school last year, but had been absent last term “because of circumstances”. She claimed that, when she took them back this year, they were told the school couldn’t accommodate them.
A third child, a 12-year-old girl, said her mother had not yet enrolled her, while a relative said this was because the mother drank.
Another boy didn’t know his own age. He appeared to be about 12 and said he had never been to school.
Some of the other children said they had been expelled. One boy said he was sick, although he was playing in a park.
A group of teenagers said they had been chased from school for being late. One child said a teacher had hit him that morning, and for that reason he had left the school.
Bronagh Casey, spokeswoman for Education MEC Donald Grant, said parents were required by law to send their children to school.
The Western Cape Education Department had repeatedly appealed to parents to enrol their children through campaigns and channels.
“We also have truancy officers who investigate reports of learners not attending school. The ministry also plans to have a truancy campaign in the Wallacedene area,” Casey said.
“According to the South African Schools Act, every parent must ensure that every pupil for whom he or she is responsible attends a school from the first school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of seven years until the last school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of 15 years or the ninth grade, whichever occurs first.”
She said that, in instances where pupils had been expelled, the department would assist them to be placed in alternative schools.
Casey said many principals chose to lock out pupils who were late.
“However, no learner should be locked out or prevented from entering the school premises under any circumstances, as this places them at an unacceptable risk,” she said.