No place at schools for scores of Blikkiesdorp kids
Cape Town - With the country focused on the importance of education as South Africa commemorated the 1976 Soweto uprising this week, school is nothing but a dream for at least 40 children in Blikkiesdorp.
The youngsters have no immediate prospect of finding a place in a classroom.
The shocking oversight means the children, aged between six and 17, haven’t seen the inside of a classroom for two years and longer - thanks to issues such as the parents being unable to afford the registration fees, or local schools having no space for them.
The provincial education department, meanwhile, denies any knowledge of the children.
Blikkiesdorp was set up as a temporary relocation area (TRA) in 2007. But today more than 1 500 corrugated iron shacks have become a permanent informal settlement officially known as the Symphony Way TRA, housing thousands of people.
During school hours this week, Weekend Argus saw a significant number of children playing outside in the streets.
The depth of the crisis was revealed during a meeting on Wednesday, called by children’s rights NGO Molo Songololo. Parents demanded to know why the Education department had done a count of children in February if they weren’t going to find places in school for them.
They also appealed to the department to help their children attend schools in other areas if local schools were full, and to provide the necessary transport.
Parents said their children were treated like outcasts by local schools, even going so far as to claim registration fees were purposely hiked so they couldn’t afford to pay them.
Molo Songololo director Patric Solomons said his organisation was aware of 43 children who needed local placements, but said their efforts to get the education department to intervene had proved fruitless.
A survey conducted by the organisation on the circumstances of each of the 43 children showed the children wanted to be in school, and were supported in this by their parents.
Reasons cited in the survey for why they weren’t at school included not finding places, lack of transport, and missing documentation such as birth certificates.
Some children had previously attended Hindle Road Primary School, Leiden Primary, Eindhoven Primary, N2 Gateway Primary, Elnor and Edward Primary Schools in Elsies River and Florida High School in Ravensmead.
The schools’ transfer and application systems were also criticised, including poor communication with parents, and a failure to follow up requests for transfers.
Officials at the meeting, who said they couldn’t be named because they weren’t authorised to talk to the media, said the department was responsible only for children aged between six and 15, for whom school attendance was compulsory.
Another official admitted to a shortage of classrooms in the area, but said “according to the brief I have, Blikkiesdorp will only be around until 2017”.
“We cannot build classrooms that will soon be without learners,” the official said.
The officials also disputed Molo Songololo’s survey and the number of pupils not attending school, saying the names of children could not be verified.
Solomons was, however, adamant the children had a right to attend school, and called on government representatives to commit to an intervention plan.
He warned that not being in school denied the children a basic right, and made them vulnerable to criminal elements and abuse.
Asked to comment, Education MEC Debbie Schafer’s spokeswoman, Jessica Shelver, denied there were children in Blikkiesdorp not attending school.
“Our district director has visited the area and could not find any children of school-going age that were out of school,” she said.
Shelver said the list of names they received contained no ID numbers or contact details.
“We are therefore unable to verify the names or contact the parents in this regard,” she said, urging affected parents to contact the district office.
Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said it was unconstitutional to deny children the right to education. The state had an obligation to ensure children attended school.
“Of course the parents also have a responsibility towards their children, but the state should do all it can for children to be at school,” he said, adding lack of money should not deny any child the right to basic education.
His views were echoed by Ntuthuzo Ndzomo, of Equal Education, who said it was problematic the department had not intervened and had shifted the blame. “It should never be an excuse that schools are full. The department should put remedies in place and it is aware of that,” Ndzomo said.