Uncertain future for Saambou

A member of the governing body Anthea Andrews defends herself at Saambou Primary School where parents protested on Monday October 24, demanding answers about rumours that the school may be closing. Next to her is Saambou Primary principal Angelo Valentine.

Worried parents protested outside Saambou Primary, on Monday, demanding answers, after almost a year of rumours that the school is going to be closed.

Holding placards and shouting ‘Saambou gaan nêrens,’ and ‘We are sick of rumours; we want answers,’ the protesters demanded to meet with Western Cape Education Department (WCED) officials, citing a lack of confidence in the acting principal, Angelo Valentine, and the school governing body (SGB).

The Athlone News reported on the uncertainties staff from Saambou, as well as Manenberg, Edendale and Sonderend primary schools and Silverstream High School, faced earlier this year (“School closures mystery,” June 8).

Although the WCED denied at the time that any school closures were planned in Manenberg, all the principals confirmed that an official had told staff and school governing bodies of at least one school closure and the merger of the four primary schools into two schools.

At this week’s protest, a parents’ representative, Yvonne Cloete, said they had met with the SGB in November last year, but since then, neither Mr Valentine, nor the SGB had been able to give conclusive answers about the rumoured closures.

Ms Cloete said they had a petition with 350 signatures and had vowed to “fight for as long as it takes, to keep the school’s doors open”.

She said she had heard that the WCED intended moving Saambou Primary to Manenberg Primary and merging the two schools.

“I have heard how teachers and children at Manenberg Primary had to lie on the floor when gangs start to shoot. At the moment, Saambou is the safest school in Manenberg, and I wouldn’t want my child to move from here. It’s too dangerous on that side. The SGB is also not taking our concerns seriously,” Ms Cloete said.

Another parent, Violet Pienaar, shares Ms Cloete’s sentiments about Saambou being safe.

“I live in Tambo Village, and yet I chose to enrol all my children at Saambou. I would rather walk a bit further from home, knowing that when there are shootings in Manenberg, my children would be safe.

“All my children attended this school, and my grandchild is a pupil here currently. I am here for all the parent meetings, any sport days and I walk through the rain to be here. It has never been a problem for me, but now we have a problem.”

Anthony Basson also said Saambou was the safest school to be at in Manenberg.

“All my children received their education here. My one son is a teacher now, and he started at Saambou. The youngest one is still a pupil here. I want to know what is happening, that is why I am here,” Ms Basson said.

Shafieka Braaf said she had sacrificed a day’s pay to join the protest.

“What is happening here is very sad for me. We’ve had meetings, but we are yet to get our answers.”

Chief Belinda Petersen from the !Xora/xou/ais, better known as Choraqoqua Khoi tribe, said she had come to support the parents and advise them on their rights.

“The parents have a right to protest, and they deserve to know what is going to happen to the school. I am tired of all the politics – politicians just want our votes, and then nothing is done for us. What is going to happen to our children should this school close?” Ms Petersen asked.

The school management called in WCED officials to address the protesting parents.

John Lyners, the WCED’s deputy director general, told parents the department was aware of their safety concerns.

“There is no way that we will talk about the closure of a school if we did not follow the legal processes, which include consultation with parents,” he said.

Only Education MEC Debbie Schafer had the power to close a school and only after she had consulted with the SGB and held public meetings.

“To answer your question about whether the school will close, the answer is no,” Mr Lyners said.

However, he added that all three spheres of government – local, provincial and national – had plans for Manenberg that would likely “take a while to be implemented” and he could not give answers until he had met with colleagues from other government departments.

We will meet shortly, however, and they will put the exact plans on the table, and then I can come and give feedback to the parents. If you want to attack anybody, attack me – not the principal or the SGB, because I have not informed the principal or the SGB. There are prospects for the community of Manenberg that will make you excited,” Mr Lyners said.

SGB chairwoman Anthea Andrews said they could not fight for the parents, if they did not have clarity themselves.

Soraya Davids, another SGB member, said the parents were frustrated about the school-closure rumours, and now they were picking on “every little small thing”, by criticising the SGB.

“We are still waiting on the education department to give us answers, so that we can give the parents answers,” Ms Davids said.

Ursula Galant, the SBG treasurer, said just like the other parents, they too were concerned about their children’s well-being.

“Your child is my child. We do many things at school, going beyond our call of duty,” she said.