School closures mystery

HAZEL ALLIES-HUSSELMAN

Staff at five Manenberg schools say they are working under a cloud of uncertainty after talks about at least one school closure and the merger of four primary schools into two super schools.

Although no official notification has been given to the schools, all the principals confirmed that a Western Cape Education Department (WCED) official had held talks with staff and school governing bodies to inform them that Silverstream High would be closed, and that Edendale and Sonderend primary schools would merge, as well as Manenberg and Saambou primary schools.

The closure of Silverstream High School and the move of Sonderend to Edendale (for the merger) is said to be part of a plan to demolish those two school buildings to make way for a regional hospital. Silverstream High and Sonderend Primary are situated next to each other, on the opposite side of the old GF Jooste Hospital site in Duinefontein Road.

It has also been revealed that the principals at Edendale, Manenberg and Saambou primary schools, who are all in acting positions, will not be made permanent until the mergers are completed.

However, Jessica Shelver, spokeswoman for Western Cape MEC for Education, Debbie Schäfer, denied that any schools faced closure. “I can confirm that the department has, to date, not received any submission for the proposed closure of any school in the Manenberg area, and, as such, no such potential closures are currently before the MEC for her consideration in terms of the act,” Ms Shelver said.

Faadila Ryklief, acting principal at Edendale Primary School, said at this stage, nothing was official. “We were just informed verbally by the circuit manager,” she said.

At Manenberg Primary, acting principal Basil Janson said the school rented out part of its sports field to privately-owned The Leadership College (TLC), and when he contacted the provincial Department of Public Works and Transport for permission to extend the contract with TLC, he was told not to.

“I was told we are getting a super school. This is a state-of-the art building with at least 1 200 pupils, hence the merger with Saambou Primary.”

And although he would welcome a new school building, Mr Janson said he was not in favour of a bigger pupil enrolment.

“Manenberg already has so many social problems, a super school will compound them. Here we have 650 pupils – it’s an intimate school. I know the pupils and their parents, and can deal with issues more effectively. Our building is still prefabricated, but we have kept it in order. It is not in a state of disrepair. This is a hub – with TLC, Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO), and the latter’s internet café. We also have an eight-year exchange programme with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), where volunteers from abroad do six months service learning at our school. This is a good template for other schools.

“At the moment, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Transfers of teachers will happen. The positive is that we are getting a new school building. Manenberg also deserves a bit of good fortune and benefiting from the spoils of South Africa. We need some form of upliftment. With a new school, we might be able to encourage more teachers to come and teach in the area. People don’t want to work in Manenberg,” Mr Janson said.

Leon Beukes, principal of Sonderend Primary School, said their school was also still housed in a prefabricated building, but that it was the biggest primary school in Manenberg, with 936 pupils.

“We were informed of a possible merger with Edendale, but no time frame was given. We need another school, but my school governing body (SGB) feels that they can just rebuild our school. If we should move, the SGB is worried about the territory of gangs – our children would then now walk over to the other side. They have that fear, because even if you are not part of a gang, they still target you as you live on the other side.

“We know our parents on this side. On the other side, they don’t know us – imagine how they would feel to come here and merge with us,” Mr Beukes said.

Faried Jansen, the SGB chairman of Silverstream High School, called a public meeting a few weeks ago to “squash the rumours of school closures”.

“There was no official notice given for school closures. No legal steps were taken to close Silverstream High,” he said.

He added that the consensus at that meeting was that no schools should be closed without the community’s consent, and that the community wanted their hospital back.

Roegchanda Pascoe, chairwoman of Manenberg Safety Forum (MSF), said her organisation and Silverstream High’s SGB had met with officials from the WCED sometime last year, and were told that a decision to close Silverstream High was not a definite.

“This year, we were informed that they are still pushing that agenda. They apparently want to justify this solely on the low numbers at school. Let us rather look at why the numbers are low. The WCED is not playing their part,” she said.

Meanwhile, Byron La Hoe, spokesman for the provincial Department of Public Works and Transport, said the old GF Jooste Hospital site would not be used to build a Metro police college.

He also said the site for the new regional hospital that would replace GF Jooste had not yet been confirmed.

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, denied that the old hospital site did not comply with the City’s requirements.

“This is not true. The provincial government has decided that they will be using the old GF Jooste site themselves. The City is committed to building the Metro police college in the coming year, and an alternative site in Philippi has been identified,” Mr Smith said.

In response to an Athlone News enquiry, Luyanda Mfeka, spokesperson for Western Cape MEC for Health, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, said: “As we have indicated previously, negotiations for the acquisition of the identified site are at an advanced stage and ongoing.

“We will be in a position to communicate more details on this and other aspects of the construction once that process is finalised. We are not commenting further at this stage.”

In April, Dr Mbombo was quoted in a Cape Argus report as saying that a site for the new hospital had been identified, but refused to give details saying she did not want people to “object and delay the process”.

She confirmed that there was no available land in Manenberg to build the hospital, adding that some existing buildings had to be demolished to make way for it.