Parents shut school

Parents and pupils of Manenberg Primary protested amid talks that the school will merge with Saambou Primary.

Parents of pupils at Manenberg Primary School vowed to keep the gates of the school closed until they get answers from the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) about talks that the school will be merging with Saambou Primary.

On Friday March 10, the parents locked the school gates, demanded that teachers leave the premises and kept their children outside with them while protesting.

They demanded to see “a high-ranking” WCED official to give them answers and insisted that they would stop schooling for the close to 700 pupils until that happened.

Parents told the Athlone News that the WCED had promised them last year that the school would be rebuilt, and that Saambou would move over to Manenberg Primary.

However, recent talks suggested that Manenberg would move over to Saambou. That, the parents said, they would not allow.

The Athlone News reported on the issue last year, when there were talks about the merger of Manenberg and Saambou primary schools, the merger of Edendale and Sonderend primary schools, and the closure of Silverstream High School. (“School closures mystery,” June 8, 2016, and “Uncertain future for Saambou,” October 26, 2016).

On Tuesday March 7, Manenberg Primary’s school governing body (SGB) called for an urgent parent meeting to inform them of the new information they had received. The next day, parents started protesting outside the school.

By Friday March 10, however, they felt their concerns were not being taken seriously and they “locked down” the school.

Parent Gillian Simmers said no school would close in her community as long as the people of Manenberg stood together.

“My child is not going to another school. Last year, the WCED promised us a super school, and there will be no schooling until we have an answer,” Ms Simmers said.

Manenberg Primary’s SGB chairwoman, Nazlie Adams, said they did not want to be informed verbally about matters, adding that whatever answers they got from the WCED, they wanted in “black and white”.

“We want a new school, we just don’t want to move,” she said.

Grandparent Faldiela Bailey said it would be too dangerous for her grandchildren to walk to Saambou Primary if Manenberg Primary should move there.

“What’s gonna happen to our children? Why can’t they just accommodate the children in containers on the premises while the rebuilding takes place – like they did with all the other schools which were rebuilt?” Ms Bailey asked.

Chairman of Silverstream High School’s SGB, Fareed Jansen, said the WCED used the “excuse” that it did not send any formal letters to the schools that mentioned school closures or mergers. However, Silverstream High had been asked not to enrol Grade 8 and Grade 9 pupils this year, he said.

“That is a clear indication that the school will be closing down within three years, as the pupils progress to the next grade. Already, eight of our teachers at Silverstream High had to be redeployed. Why are our communities always marginalised?” Mr Jansen asked.

On Friday March 10, parents refused to speak to WCED officials, Circuit 10 manager Kubeshini Govender and Enver Hassen, who were called out to the scene. Instead, they demanded that someone more senior in the department come out to address them.

When Sanette Nowers, the director for the Metro Central Education District, arrived to speak to the parents, she shared her concerns with them about keeping the children from school, saying valuable teaching was being lost and that assessments were being done during this time.

Ms Nowers told the parents that any school closure or merger could only be done once a strict set of laws had been applied. “I brought with me the South African Schools Act and highlighted the section that deals with school closures and mergers,” Ms Nowers said.

She said Education MEC Debbie Schäfer was the only one who could issue a letter of her intention to close or merge a school.

“That letter was never sent. We are now in a catch-22 situation. You want answers, and we don’t have answers for you. The provincial education minister cannot just decide willy nilly to close down a school. There are legal processes that need to be followed. This includes community participation, and no decision will be made without consultation,” Ms Nowers said.

Joyce Albrecht said if parents did not lock the gates of the school, they would not get the attention they needed.

On Monday March 13, the protest continued, with children missing another day of school.

During her state of the province address in February, Premier Helen Zille singled out Manenberg as one of the areas prioritised for an upgrade. She said integral to implementing that vision was a schools’ upgrade programme, adding that three new schools would be built, including a school of skills, and the provincial government and the City of Cape Town were working together on that plan.