While schools across the country are well into the academic year, Mfuleni pupils are still sitting in halls with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
Their frustrated parents have set up a school, which they have named Fairdale, for primary and high school pupils, following a dispute with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) over the placement of mobile classrooms.
Desperate community leaders had to set up classes in churches and halls to accommodate more than 1 000 children who are still waiting to be placed in schools.
The parents want their children to go to school in Mfuleni, however, the WCED has placed the mobile classrooms in Silversands.
This means the children are falling behind on their school work as schools across the country started the academic year on January 9.
Angry parents say they want the mobile classes to be brought back “to where they belong”.
A parent whose child is part of the group at the old clinic building in Mfuleni said the WCED should stop making excuses for their actions.
The mother, who did not want to be named, said the education department should take full responsibility for what was happening.
Her words were echoed by the deputy chairperson of the school steering committee, Xolisile Qwesha, who said the matter was in the hands of the WCED. He said local leaders had numerous meetings with the department since last year and it was agreed that there would be mobile classes for the children.
Mr Qwesha said the 1 000 pupils were made up of those who could not be accommodated at the local primary schools because they were full while some had relocated to the area.
“Mfuleni is growing day by day. Our schools were overflowing from last year. That is why we took time to engage with the department. But more so, there are new areas where people are relocating from,” he said. On Thursday January 17, when Vukani visited the area, children were packed in three places, the old clinic, Mfuleni hall and the young ones in a church hall. Pupils were roaming around because they had nothing to do. “We currently have no teachers but parents who are looking after these children. We would have loved to have teachers but we are in discussion with the government to start that process of recruiting them. We have more than 1 000 children in our school,” said Mr Qhwesha.
Another resident, Thembile George said there will always be challenges like those in Mfuleni for as long as the education, human settlements and health departments are not working together. He said when people are relocated to Mfuleni, the different departments should sit down and work out their plans.
“We had this problem last year. Come next year, we will have the same problem. Clinics as we speak are overflowing. Mfuleni is a dumping place. People are taken from all these areas and dumped here. What the government forgets is to put resources,” he said.
Education MEC Debbie Schafer’s spokesperson Jessica Shelver said the situation in Mfuleni is being attended to as a priority by district and infrastructure officials. She said meetings are being held to determine the way forward.
“Our infrastructure directorate has been in negotiation with the Mfuleni Education Forum to enable the completion of the mobiles placed on the Silversands site. There seems to be different groupings within the community who are abusing the situation for their own purposes. It also appears that there are various interests at play and not all want the same outcome. This makes the situation incredibly difficult to manage. These schools will assist in alleviating pressure within the broader Mfuleni/Blue Downs area,” she said.
She said the department’s priority at this stage is to ensure that pupils are placed as quickly as possible. She said to accommodate the growth in numbers, the department is building schools. However, she said one of the biggest challenges is available land in the metros to do so.
“Meanwhile, the pupil population in our Metropole North district is continuing to grow, in line with general population trends.The City of Cape Town can only expand northwards, as migrants continue to flock to Cape Town, because of limited space on the Peninsula. This movement to these areas is placing huge demands on all resources, including demand for housing, schools, medical facilities and jobs. We have built many new schools in the district over the past five years and will continue to,” she said.
Ms Shelver said the WCED has increased its spend on infrastructure from R445 million in 2009/2010 to R1.6 billion in 2018/2019. She said the WCED completed six schools in 2018, one of which is a replacement school, so five new brick and mortar schools.
But she maintained that officials are working around the clock and will continue to do so until every pupil is accommodated.