040815. Gauteng Provincial Legislature, Johannesburg. Gauteng MEC for Education, Panyaza Lesufi during the response to legislature questions at the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, Johannesburg. 967 Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Johannesburg - Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi blames overcrowding and the lack of desks and chairs in township schools on white people, calling them the DA’s constituency.

Lesufi’s dramatic comments came after he faced a barrage of delayed questions from the DA and EFF in the Gauteng legislature on Tuesday. These questions were supposed to have been answered in June but were postponed due to the legislature’s tight schedule.

DA spokesman on education Khume Ramulifho fired the first salvo at Lesufi, asking whether he was aware that pupils at Tsakane Primary School in Kagiso on the West Rand were using buckets as chairs while others had to sit on the floor.

Ramulifho said some of the pupils used broken chairs and desks while most classrooms were overcrowded and uncomfortable.

He said pupils at the neighbouring Itireleng School for children with intellectual disabilities didn’t have appropriate classroom equipment “or even a dedicated occupational therapist to assist with their welfare and development”.

“What steps will the MEC be taking to address these issues?” asked Ramulifho.

Lesufi said the problems had been resolved on June 2.

That was the day after the DA had exposed the issues at those schools to the media.

Lesufi then took a swipe at Ramulifho, accusing him of failing to ask school governing bodies (SGBs) in “whites only schools” why they refused to admit black pupils.

“Why don’t you ask the same questions to your constituency?” Lesufi asked Ramulifho.

An annoyed Lesufi admitted that overcrowding was rife in townships schools but said it was due to the refusal of white schools to admit black pupils, citing language and creed as reasons for their exclusion.

He said more than 100 000 extra pupils who had turned up after the school registration deadline had to be accommodated in township schools, which had intensified the problem of overcrowding.

“We admitted those pupils and allowed them to share the desks and chairs because we had identified the limitations. Were we supposed to chase them away? he asked.

Lesufi’s tone relaxed when the EFF’s Christina Mabala asked him why was there was only one English-medium high school in Randfontein and two Afrikaans high schools in an area where most pupils were English speaking.

Mabala wanted to know whether Lesufi had any plans to convert the Afrikaans schools into English medium schools, including changing their names – Hoërskool Riebeeckrand and Hoërskool Jan Viljoen – into “acceptable names”.

Lesufi didn’t answer her about changing the schools’ names but instead focused on overcrowding.

“This is exactly the problem I have. One of the schools in Fourways took me to court.

“It was due to the fact that one school in the area had a recorded overcrowding of 35 percent while this other school has an occupancy rate of 30 percent. They took me to court to stop me from changing it,” he said.

He vowed that he would oppose their court application.

“I’m prepared to go as far as the Constitutional Court for it to make a ruling on whether non-racialism is wrong or not. We cannot allow five people to hold the country to ransom,” he said.

This was the first time the ANC and EFF in Gauteng had fervently agreed on an issue.

The EFF’s approval of Lesufi’s action was shown when Mabala said: “We will be monitoring the (court) process. We cannot prioritise the interest of the minority.”

DA members protested from their benches and maintained that the crisis in townships was due to poor planning by the Gauteng Department of Education.

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The Star