Libode schools torched as pupils vent frustration

2016-09-04 08:38
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Libode - Three schools in the Libode district in the Eastern Cape were torched this week as pupils vented their frustrations over a shortage of teachers and demanded matric farewell functions.

Wonga Ndzamela, leader of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union in Libode, blamed the provincial department of education for failing to intervene at these schools, despite simmering tensions. “We do not condone the burning of schools, but in this case it is a consequence of the education department’s failure to act and provide leadership.”

One of the schools burnt was Sandi Senior Secondary School, located in Ntsundwana village outside Ngqeleni in the Eastern Cape.

It was damaged on Monday, a day after City Press published a story about the plight of pupils. This as a result of the provincial education department’s failure to resolve an impasse between five expelled teachers – including the deputy principal – and the school governing body, which fired the teachers in February as it held them responsible for the drop in the matric pass rate from 100% to 35% in 2015.

Ndzamela said the two other schools torched were Nogemane Senior Secondary in Ngqeleni and Chief Henry Bokleni Senior Secondary in Libode, as pupils demanded resources for a matric dance party.

Ten classrooms were burnt down at Nogemane. One classroom at Chief Henry Bokleni school, containing groceries for its nutrition and feeding scheme, as well as cutlery, stoves, documents and other items, was destroyed.

With regard to Sandi school, Ndzamela fingered provincial education MEC Mandla Makupula and the Libode district management for failing to act decisively. He said Makupula visited the school in February and promised to return and resolve its problems, but failed to deliver on his promise.

“The school has been a good example for many years, attaining good marks for its matriculants. But all that has been flushed down the drain,” Ndzamela said.

The five teachers were expelled as far back as December. They were joined by 11 more teachers, who resigned in solidarity with them – plunging the school into a teacher shortage crisis.

According to a Sandi school teacher, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation, at least 38 teachers were needed at the school, which was using mainly student teachers. It currently employed 12 permanent teachers to educate more than 900 pupils, of which 216 were in Grade 12.

This woeful situation compares starkly with impressive results achieved by the school in previous years. In 2013, Sandi scored a 96% pass rate – and a 100% pass rate in 2014.

But in 2015, teachers went on a go-slow and pupils protested against what they perceived as the unfair process undertaken by the education department in appointing a new principal for Sandi. The school’s results plummeted to a 35% pass rate.

Mlibo Qoboshiyane, the ANC spokesperson in the province, described the destruction of schools as “an act of criminality ... We condemn this criminality and call on communities to do more to protect public assets.”

Malibongwe Mtima, spokesperson for the education department, did not respond to questions sent to him by City Press, despite undertaking to do so. However, City Press has established that Makupula has yet to act on a report pointing to alleged corruption at the school and requesting his intervention. The report, which has been seen by City Press, was given to Makupula on February 5. In it, the five expelled teachers accuse Sandi school’s governing body of mismanaging funds and call for an investigation.

One of the expelled teachers, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation, said the MEC responded to them only last week, through district officials. The teachers were told to either return to Sandi “if they feel safe” or request placement at other schools.

“The department has said nothing about the allegations of mismanagement of funds by the school governing body and is indecisive. One wonders if there are district officials implicated in the corruption,” said the teacher.

Siphenathi Zaphela, head of the representative council of learners at Sandi school, said pupils were frustrated by a lack of teachers and torched the school to force authorities to act.

“This was a warning by the learners that they can burn down the entire school if pushed. They burnt only a single block of the school so that their grievances could be attended to,” he said.

He added that the pupils’ main demand was to stop exams because “they have not been taught the syllabus” in various subjects. They also wanted the return of the five expelled teachers and the school governing body to be disbanded.

Zaphela told City Press that he had fled Ntsundwana after Monday’s protest because some people working with the governing body were looking for him. “I am in a place of hiding. People have been sent by the school governing body to kill me. They went to my place on Monday and Tuesday night, but did not find me. They say I am instigating the pupils to protest and want to silence me. They are going around the village intimidating students and asking where I am.”

The extent of the damage in the three schools is not yet known. Nolizwi Ngconde, secretary of Sandi’s governing body, could not be reached for comment.

Read more on:    education  |  protests

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