Empumelelweni Primary School started operating on a field adjacent to Old Faure Road, next to Forest Village, Eerste River, on Tuesday, 16 February. About 450 pupils attend the makeshift school.
There are no chairs or toilets, and pupils bring chairs from home and use toilets in homes next to the school.
Schools in the area have donated textbooks to allow teachers to continue classes. Volunteer teachers from the area teach grades 1 to 11 while parents sit on rocks in the middle of the field or on its outskirts to make sure their children are not harmed or go missing. Classes start at 8am and grades R and 1 leave at 12.30pm, followed by grades 2 to 11 at 1.30pm.
The Apex High and Primary schools are within 1km of the field, but they have already reached capacity.
ANC education spokesperson Khalid Sayed said the problem was made worse by poor planning, where almost 5,000 houses were built in the area but apparently no provision was made for space for a school. He highlighted that backyarders, mostly from Langa and Gugugethu, relocated to the area and that a significant number of these pupils speak isiXhosa.
On Thursday, 25 February, community leader Luxolo Sokoyi told Maverick Citizen they were forced to resort to a makeshift school after they exhausted all avenues with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).
“Last year we had several meetings with the WCED and their district office. The majority of the learners’ parents have lost their jobs due to Covid-19. They used to live in Langa, Gugulethu and Dunoon, and now reside in Forest Village,” he said.
“We told the WCED that we need a school in the area and around September  we were promised containers to use as classrooms. But when the schools reopened on Monday, 15 November, there were no containers or mobile units. The following day we decided to start our own school on an open field in the area.”
WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond confirmed the department engaged with the community “task team” in 2020, but at no stage were mobile units promised.
Zizipho Nteta, one of the voluntary teachers at Empumelelweni Primary School, said that during engagement with the WCED to open a school in the area the task team and parents approached all the unemployed teachers to get on board.
“We are aware that schools in and around the area are full and the parents of these learners don’t have money to pay taxis to take their kids to school. That is why I’ve decided to come aboard and help these kids. They have nowhere to go and we are their only hope of getting teaching under these harsh conditions,” Nteta said.
“If we as teachers leave it will be to the detriment of these learners. It would make me proud if I could in my small way assist a process to have a school for these learners in the area.”
Parents said they will not move from the field even in cold weather. They have decided each parent will contribute R50 towards renting structures, tents and toilets so that teaching can continue until they get a proper school.
Hammond said: “The community has thus allegedly created an illegal school in an attempt to strong-arm the WCED into building a school. The WCED has been confronted by similar attempts like this in the past, where certain teachers are vying for jobs through this kind of action by community members.”
She explained that the department had, at the end of 2020, offered alternatives for placement in primary and high school, but every offer was denied, or it was on condition that the department use their “existing teachers” and create a “new school” on the premises.
Hammond reiterated that the WCED cannot simply appoint teachers or create new schools in such a manner, and that it has to consider a variety of factors. The WCED had since addressed parents directly instead of through the “task team”, and some parents had now accepted placement at the schools the department had offered.
“The ‘task team’ continues to allege that hundreds of learners are without schools. The list provided to us of learners requiring placement is, however, questionable. Many of the names have no ID numbers or contact numbers attached. We have started going through the list and have realised that many of the numbers are of random people from all over the province or country.”
The school has allegedly appointed a school governing body and teachers, and adopted a uniform and a school name, but Hammond underlined that the school is not WCED registered and therefore has no legal standing.
The WCED completed the Forest Village Leadership Academy in 2015/16 in the area, as well as Apex High School in 2017/18 and the mobile Apex Primary School in 2019/20, which expanded to 10 classrooms in 2020.
“We will continue to engage with the parents of the community on the placement of their children. Unfortunately, those who refuse to take up our offers are doing so to the detriment of their children’s education,” Hammond said. DM/MC
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