Battle for councillor positions engulfs school

THULANI MAGAZI

The battle for positions on party candidate lists ahead of the upcoming local government elections took a nasty turn on Monday May 30, when angry Kuyasa residents picketed outside Kuyasa Primary School, halting teaching and learning.

Teachers and pupils were prematurely forced to abandon classes, fearing the situation could escalate.

Waving placards, the disgruntled crowd called for the provincial ANC leadership to immediately address their concerns. They also wanted the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to intervene in some problems at the school.

Community leader Lonwabo Mqina said the aim of the picket was twofold. He said they wanted the ANC’s provincial leadership to stop interfering in local politics, emphasising that, in line with the party’s election policy, candidates for councillor positions were chosen at branch general meetings and endorsed by the public. He accused the party leadership of acting against its own policy by imposing its own candidates.

Mr Mqina said that in wards 97 and 99, both in Kuyasa, the party ignored individuals chosen by the community. It is alleged that in Ward 97 the party chose Zwelijikile Simbeki over Thanduxolo Wili, while in Ward 99 it preferred Lonwabo Peter over Bongile Ngcali.

Mr Mqina said they would do everything they could to force the party to reconsider its decision. “If they do not respond, we will continue protesting until they come to us,” he said.

Mr Mquina added that their actions did not mean they did not care about the pupils. He said they also wanted the WCED to account for staff and pupils’ safety at the school, adding that last year a general worker at the school had been injured when a gas stove exploded.

Mr Mqina said the department had shown no interest in the matter and that the employee was now at home.

“This is also about the future of the children. We want the department to create a safe environment for our pupils. This incident could have also affected them,” said Mr Mqina.

“We are very much concerned about our children. The people we do not care about are the teachers. They are the least of our concerns. They also did not take action when this incident happened, purely because their children do not study here.”

Ward 97 community leader Pasika Ketsekile said they were fully aware of the impact their actions had on children.

“This is also their future,” he said, adding that councillors played a crucial role in ward and community development.

“We have not set the schools alight, but the way they are dealing with us means we could find ourselves there.”

Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, said the department was aware of what had happened at the school . She said the situation had been politically motivated and had nothing to do with education.

She said department officials had visited the school to negotiate with protesters, but their efforts had been in vain. However, she cautioned against the illegal disruption of classes, pointing out that in terms of the South Africa Schools Act anyone found guilty of disrupting education could be imprisoned for up to six months.

“We will not tolerate our pupils being caught up between warring factions of political parties, and should teaching and learning not be restored immediately, we will be forced to take further action. While we condemn any disruption to schooling at any time during the school year, the disruption of schooling at this critical time of the year is even more concerning,” said Ms Shelver.

She said all the other claims were baseless and urged people with evidence to come forward, adding that there was no risk to pupils as the kitchen had been closed since it caught fire.

“The school is part of the sandwich programme and receives sandwiches delivered every day. There is therefore no safety risk, as claimed,” she said.

Provincial ANC spokesperson Yonela Diko called on protesting members to respect the organisation and its processes. He said members had various platforms to air their grievances, describing the protest outside the school premises as a “misguided way of seeking attention”.

Mr Diko warned that such actions could lead to authorities getting involved.

”The ANC is about the poor people, and the PEC (Provincial Executive Committee) has the authority to change the list,” he said, citing an individual’s skills and knowledge as being fundamental to who made it onto the list. He added that councillor positions were a “contested space” and individuals who contested for position and lost should instead support preferred candidates.

“No one joins the ANC to be a leader; they join it for its vision,” said Mr Diko.

The situation was back to normal on Tuesday, but not all the pupils had returned to school.