By Sheena Adams and Moshoeshoe Monare

When Ignatius Jacobs, the Gauteng MEC for education, gets angry, his left eyebrow rises sharply and his face crinkles up.

Errant Soweto pupils were quickly introduced to this expression on Tuesday morning, when the MEC toured several schools south of Johannesburg on the first day of learning.

One of the schools he visited was Thesele Secondary School in Soweto, which recorded one of the worst matric pass rates in the province last year. Out of 87 matric pupils, only 13 passed.

Pupils reclined in empty classrooms, and only a few were in uniform. Jacobs marched from class to class, ordering pupils to remove jewellery and colourful clothing, and demanding registers and timetables from teachers.

He also hauled a student in front of the staff after he found a bottle of brandy on the boy.

"If you want a kwaito bash, find it at the weekend," Jacobs told pupils.

The MEC threatened that if the pass rate this year was as dismal as last year's, he would close the school, and the entire staff would lose their jobs.

"We want the African child to get the best of the best because they have been denied this in the past and because they deserve it. They must be able to break the poverty in their homes," he said.

Jacobs added that an administrator would take over the school from the principal.

Another school earmarked for a curator is Hlomphanang High in Soshanguve, where Kader Asmal, the minister of education, arrived at 7.20am to empty classrooms. The school was scheduled to start at 8am.

He was told by the principal, Dennis Phakanoka, who arrived 10 minutes later, that children were to receive books at 2.30pm. Asmal ordered them to be distributed immediately.

Of the 21 teachers, 18 arrived only a few minutes before the starting time and the remainder were late.

"The first day was supposed to be an important one. I don't think the school is ready for the first day - three teachers are late," said Asmal.

The school's matric pass rates dropped from 19,6 percent in 1999 to 17 percent last year, despite intensive intervention by the Gauteng department of education.

"The fact that your matric pass rate dropped is an indication to me that things are not working out at the school," he said.

Asmal and Jacobs also visited schools with improved results, including:

  • Bhukulani Secondary, which was named the best-performing school in Soweto for obtaining an 85,9 percent pass rate.

  • Reitumetse Secondary in Soshanguve, where the pass rate rose to 82,5 percent.

  • Naledi High, which showed a dramatic improvement from eight percent in 1999 to 61 percent last year. But the school was flayed for being in a dirty state, with Jacobs saying he would return on Saturday on a clean-up campaign, and;

  • Southview High, in Lenasia, which improved from 15 percent in 1999 to 71,6 percent last year.