Township schools a tinderbox waiting to explode

2019-11-25 11:18
Rubbish has piled up next to Khwezi Lomso High School in Zwide, Port Elizabeth. (Mkhuseli Sizani, GroundUp)

Rubbish has piled up next to Khwezi Lomso High School in Zwide, Port Elizabeth. (Mkhuseli Sizani, GroundUp)

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The migration of learners from townships to former model C schools in towns that has been taking place since the advent of our democracy is a tinderbox likely to explode and make the FeesMustFall campaign of 12 October 2015 (619 students were detained and property destroyed and damaged was over R800m) look like a Sunday afternoon picnic.

DBE stats report that by 2007 more than 4 500 schools across the country had closed down in the townships and rural schools for ex-model C schools. By 2018/19 30 schools (24 primary and 6 secondary) in the Buffalo City Municipality alone have closed down in the townships. By the same period the learner/teacher ratio in town schools has escalated from 20:1 to 30:1 in the period of 1994-2018.

Before explaining why this situation is becoming untenable it’s necessary to explain the reasons behind this exodus that force parents to incur such huge financial expenses and expose their kids to vagaries of seasonal elements and unreliable, dangerous transport. To see kids as early as 05:30 quivering in the coldest wintry morning going to catch a train is heart-wrenching in the extreme. Such is the daily routine of those commuting between townships and town schools.

Research shows that learners flee from the daily whippings by educators, poorly resourced and poorly performing schools. To have a bird’s view of general productivity one needs to look at matric results to see the extremely high number of bachelors produced annually and consistently by ex-model C schools as opposed to the dismal production of mainly diplomas and school leaving certificates by townships and rural schools.

While the South Africa Schools Act of 1996 guarantees “to provide an education of progressively high quality for all learners” what is manifestly evident is that in our country we have an unequal schooling system, one for the poor and the other for the rich. The "high quality" education enshrined in the act is nothing but a mirage to the majority of learners. Unfulfilled promises and dreams deferred result into frustration which, in turn, generally explodes into uncontrollable unrest – the tinderbox.

In Mdantsane where I stay, most schools remain the same rectangular two blocks of 12 classrooms at the end of which is a sparsely furnitured principal’s office and staff room just as they had been before 1994. Few or no laboratories, halls, computer rooms, sporting fields, swimming pools or diverse curricula like French/Music. The schools that have been closed down have been vandalised, are dilapidated and are safe havens to criminals peddling drugs and committing all assortments of crime at will.

When the town schools open in January 2020 they will be under tremendous pressure to admit learners who have not even applied but are escaping the grim and under performing schools from their own localities. Some learners will end up being victims of the fly by night schools whose only interest is to milk poor parents dry.

At the beginning of the year there will be brouhaha about the lack of space yet there are empty schools in the townships that are left to ruin. To make education more appealing, productive and conducive, why doesn’t the government launch a massive infrastructure development of at least the few existing schools, provide them with competent teaching staff?  In spite of this quandary we have a provincial government that can brook R279 830m of unauthorised expenditure and R17 432m of fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The money thus wasted would be more than enough to fund more productive schools if we had an accountable government that demands consequences for malfeasance of this magnitude. 

Those schooling in town must never rest while their counterparts in the townships and rural areas are hankering for better quality schools. Never. History is replete with many cases where the oppressed have taken stock of their miserable lives, located the misery enforcers and dealt with them harshly. It’s about time that the affected communities turned activists and applied the necessary pressure on the powers that be to provide the necessary, equitable and viable schools as envisaged by our Constitution before the tinderbox of frustration and anger explodes.

Vivi Mpikashe

Mdantsane, East London

Read more on:    education  |  schools
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