There are certain things that one notices when one enters Manenberg via Govan Mbeki Road and Vygieskraal Road.
One is the amount of dirt that is lying next to the road, almost a metre high at times, indicating that this has been a neglected dump site in the area. The other is the many able-bodied young men, dozens at least, standing on street corners. And this was before midday.
As one turns into Thames Avenue, one begins to see Edendale Primary School in Sonderendweg: a non-descript school in prefabricated buildings that were supposed to last five years at most. But they have been standing for almost 50 years.
The school was build in 1970 and most of the buildings have been standing since then. They are in more than a need for a decent paint job; they should be demolished and replaced with permanent buildings, something that will probably not happen for another 50 years.
I was taken to the school this week by Henry Petersen, who was principal at the school until about 20 years ago and now dabbles in business, mainly in the wine industry. He wanted to show me the good work being done by the current acting principal, Faadila Ryklief, who he had appointed as a department head in 1996.
Ryklief grew up in Wye Road, Manenberg, until her family moved to Lentegeur in Mitchells Plain, but she still completed her schooling at Manenberg High School. At the same time, she lost her father and her mother became a single parent.
“This is something in these areas. There are many single parents and, quite often, the women just give up. But my mother never gave up,” said Ryklief.
Ryklief started teaching at Edendale Primary School in 1988. She was appointed as acting principal about three years ago and have been told by the education authorities that her position will become permanent from October 1.
Edendale Primary was in the news last year for the wrong reasons. Chanelle McCrawl, 10, a Grade 4 learner at the school, was found murdered in October, a day after she was declared missing.
Her bludgeoned body was discovered in a field not far from the school. Her uncle and a neighbour have been charged with raping and murdering her. The case still has to go to trial.
“Last year was difficult, especially for the Grade 4 class. We lost Chanelle, but another of her classmates drowned in December while another one had a heart operation,” said Ryklief.
The problems of Manenberg inevitably find their way into the school. “We are a no-fee school and we try to supplement our income through fund-raising activities, but we can only have small fundraising activities on Sassa day (when beneficiaries get their social grants). Quite often, we have to cancel planned activities when the gangsters start shooting.”
One of the things that Ryklief has changed is not allowing parents to take children from school when gang violence breaks out. This used to be common practise.
“As soon as the shooting starts, parents come and fetch their children, even though the children are probably safer at school. One parent would come and take all the children from their street. We now tell parents that they are welcome to wait at school until the end of the school day when they can take their children,” she said.
Even sports activities are affected by the gangsters’ shenanigans.
“We don’t have a soccer field, so the children have to play on a nearby field, but they can only go when the gangsters are not fighting.”
Meanwhile, many of the facilities at the school are run-down. The Grade R play area has been closed because some of the equipment has become unsafe leaving the children to make up games in the general play area. The cricket nets are unusable and the cricket wicket is overgrown.
The school has 27 computers in a small lab, but six of the screens and five of the hard drives are not working. The average class has 42 learners, so most of the learners end up sharing computers during lessons.
Over the years, for a variety of reasons, the school’s population has shrunk, but Ryklief has been steadily increasing the numbers in the past three years.
“There was a time when we had about 700 learners, but this decreased significantly in the past 10 years. Three years ago we had 350 learners, now we have just over 440. Our plans are to introduce English Grade R classes, but this needs the approval of the education department,” said Ryklief.
Introducing English classes at the Afrikaans-medium school could also mean that the school could attract learners from Gugulethu, which is over the railway line.
On the face of it, Edendale is just another school trying to survive in the townships. But Ryklief is determined to make sure that the school attracts good teachers and improves its facilities in a community where most people have nothing.
“Sometimes township schools attract only teachers who are not committed in the way that we would want them to be. But I am hoping to attract good teachers.”
In many ways, the odds are stacked against her, but one cannot help but admire her determination to make a difference in an environment where most people do not care. For instance, if the education authorities cared, they would have replaced the pre-fab buildings years ago.
* Fisher is an independent media professional. Twitter: @rylandfisher
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.