Maverick Citizen


Early childhood development centres in SA continue to struggle with registration and access to subsidies

Early childhood development centres in SA continue to struggle with registration and access to subsidies
Teacher Michelle November lines up the three- to four-year-old group to head for the playground for a break at Otter’s Creek Pre-Primary School ECD centre in Ottery, Cape Town. (Photo: David Harrison)

The registration process for early childhood development centres is complex and costly, particularly when it comes to achieving compliance with municipal by-laws. For many centres, it acts as a barrier to accessing the state subsidy for early learning programmes.

Otters’ Creek Pre-Primary School has everything a young child needs – a spacious outdoor playground, colourful teaching aids and stimulating classroom activities. However, like many early childhood development centres (ECD) in South Africa, it is not registered with the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

This is not for lack of trying, according to Yumna Allie, principal and owner. Since the centre moved to its premises in the Cape Town suburb of Ottery 10 years ago, she has been attempting to tick all the boxes required for the centre to achieve compliance with the local by-laws.

“The Department of Social Development, they haven’t been the hold-up. The hold-up is at the City of Cape Town,” explained Allie. “They manage the infrastructure. This house was zoned for residential purposes, so we’ve had to apply for consent to use it as a pre-school.”

ecd yumna allie

Otter’s Creek Pre-Primary School has been operating in Ottery, Cape Town, for 10 years. Despite the efforts of the principal and owner, Yumna Allie, during this time, the early childhood development centre has not yet achieved registration. (Photo: David Harrison)

In previous years, the ECD function fell under the Department of Social Development (DSD), with all centres needing to register with the department. From 1 April 2022, however, this was taken over by the DBE.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Campaign outlines five reforms for Basic Education Department after migration of ECD function

“The Department of Basic Education has inherited all the personnel associated with [ECD] registration and application,” said Kayin Scholtz, ECD resource hub manager at the DG Murray Trust.

ecd kayin scholtz

The challenges that early childhood development centres encounter when trying to register are often linked to local municipal by-laws, according to Kayin Scholtz, ECD resource hub manager at the DG Murray Trust. (Photo: David Harrison)

ECD centres need to meet several requirements at a municipal level before they can be registered. In the City of Cape Town, centres are required to:

  • Obtain land use and zoning certificates;
  • Obtain a fire clearance certificate;
  • Undergo an environmental health inspection;
  • Obtain a health clearance certificate; and
  • Complete the application form for childcare facilities.

The process is often time-consuming, financially exhausting and frustrating, according to Allie.

ecd development fee

As part of the ongoing process of registering Otters’ Creek Pre-Primary School as an early childhood development centre, the centre has had to pay a R59,000 development fee to the City of Cape Town. (Photo: David Harrison)

Access to subsidies

Unregistered centres have no access to the state subsidy for ECD programmes, according to Scholtz. For many, this makes it difficult to operate sustainably.

“There are obviously risks associated with operating in an unregistered way,” said Scholtz. “We recently saw with Covid that [unregistered centres] get almost no support from the state. They are sometimes under threat, in certain provinces, of being shut down.”

In Khayelitsha, Cape Town, the inability to access subsidies due to being unregistered has a huge impact on ECD centres, according to Mildred Bopoto, ECD programme manager at the NPO Ikamva Labantu.

ecd costs

The process of registering an early childhood development centre involves many costs, including building plans, development fees and scrutiny fees. (Photo: David Harrison)

“We’re looking at a child who is already disadvantaged, and they can’t get enough nutrition at their ECD centre because… as much as the principal is trying to buy food… they’re trying to buy it from the little fees they are charging,” she said. “So, it’s just trying to make ends meet.”

Many of the ECD centres in the area, including those that operate out of informal structures, do wonders for the local community, she emphasised.

“We don’t have enough ECD centres in the community, and also we’re looking at informal settlements where there are children… [who] have to have somewhere to go and get stimulated.”

In the Khayelitsha area, 169 of 421 active ECD centres have never been registered. A further 150 were once registered and are struggling to re-register, according to Bopoto.

The results of the Early Childhood Development Census 2021, released in May 2022, showed that only 40% of the early learning programmes assessed across the country were registered or conditionally registered with the DSD. Only 33% were receiving ECD subsidies from the department.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “First early childhood development census reveals underfunded and underqualified sector

ecd arnold samsodien

Teacher Michelle November (left) and assistant Tasneem Samsodien line up their three- to four-year-old group to head for the playground for a break at Otter’s Creek Pre-Primary School ECD centre in Ottery, Cape Town. (Photo: David Harrison)

Municipal barriers

Across municipalities, the challenges involved in obtaining compliance with local by-laws have resulted in ECD centres operating without being registered.

Lashiwe Mparadzi, principal of Farani-Vana Pre-school in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, told Maverick Citizen that most of the ECD centres in her area operate without registration. She has been attempting to register her pre-school since it started running in 2015.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

“The main challenge is the issue of title deeds and building plans, because I’m renting this space, so I don’t have access to a title deed,” said Mparadzi on the factors hindering her registration efforts.


Teacher Fatima Arnold helps children in the four- to five-year age group at Otter’s Creek Pre-Primary School ECD centre in Ottery, Cape Town. (Photo: David Harrison)

“We play a very pivotal role in the community because there are some kids who are not paying in our centres. We just take them off the streets and accommodate them.”

Many ECD centres are established on unproclaimed land, or operate out of premises that practitioners do not own, according to Scholtz. This prevents them from zoning the centres for ECD activities.

Each region can have different by-laws that affect the ease with which ECD centres register, he said, adding that “if you look at the [ECD] registration rates, Gauteng has the lowest rates because it has the most onerous by-laws”.

ecd anneqah

Aneeqah Moosa, principal and owner of Wonderland Kids’ Academy, has been trying to register her early childhood development centre since 2013. However, the complex process of achieving compliance with City of Cape Town by-laws has proved a barrier to registration. (Photo: David Harrison)

Sometimes, local by-laws change after an ECD centre’s application to register is submitted, creating further delays in an already complex process, according to Aneeqah Moosa, principal and owner of the Wonderland Kids’ Academy in Cape Town.

“There’s not really anybody who assists you in the process. So the government officials… [are] not forthcoming with any information whatsoever,” she told Maverick Citizen.

“It’s quite frustrating, because at the end of the day, it’s your own property, and you need to follow all these rules and regulations to get to a certain point, which you never get to, because 10 years later we’re still sitting here [unregistered].”

ecd basic education

The coordination of the early childhood development sector was handed over from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education in April 2022. Some ECD practitioners remain unsure of how this shift will affect policies related to the sector. (Photo: David Harrison)

According to councillor Patricia van der Ross, Cape Town’s Mayco member for community services and health, the City’s Social Development and Early Childhood Development (SD&ECD) Department offers training, funding and compliance checks to ensure that ECD centres can be registered and accredited with the Western Cape government.

“The SD&ECD areas have regular engagements with ECD forums across the city to ensure updated information is shared and resources, where applicable, are distributed,” she said.

High costs

The process of having an ECD centre approved at a municipal level involves many costs, according to Allie. “Besides scrutiny fees, we’ve paid for building plans, the architect… and then the town planner, who advises us on the way to go,” she said.

Building plans can cost between R7,000 and R15,000, and often need to be altered several times throughout the registration process.

A once-off fee of R59,000 was also payable to the City of Cape Town to rezone Allie’s centre for ECD.

ecd grassy park

ECD teacher Lauren Lewis teaches counting to her 3-4-year-old class at the Wonderland Kid’s Academy in Grassy Park. (Photo: David Harrison)

“The City of Cape Town calls it the development fee… in order for them to facilitate our collection of dirt, our use of the roads, and sewerage and plumbing,” she explained.

Maverick Citizen reached out to the City of Cape Town about local ECD practitioners’ claims that the process of achieving compliance with local bylaws was costly and complex.

In response, we were referred to a press release from 26 May 2022 in which the City indicated that it had put criteria in place that allowed certain ECD centres to be exempted from development fees, being the “once-off fee… imposed at the time of a land development application or when an application is made to change the lawful land use or zoning of a property”.

“The City’s Social Development and Early Childhood Development Department (SDECD) identified this requirement as a stumbling block to Early Childhood Development Centres several years ago, and then set about drafting the Development Charges Exemption Criteria for ECDs, which was approved by Council in October 2020,” according to the press release. “What it means, practically, is that ECDs that meet the criteria can be exempted from paying these development costs, with the SDECD covering the costs on their behalf.”

Renovations are often required to meet municipal standards for ECD centres, according to Moosa. For centres that start operating before undertaking the renovations, the registration process involves penalty fees.

“From a financial perspective, we could manage the [various] fees. The other schools in our [local ECD] forum are not that privileged… their money goes into the running costs and their salaries and the food they have to provide for the children,” said Allie.

“They are even more stuck than I am. Even if they want to become compliant, they just can’t afford it.”

ecd grassy park fatima bucks

ECD teacher Fatima Bucks in the playground with her 2-3-year-old class at the Wonderland Kid’s Academy in Grassy Park. (Photo: David Harrison)

Elijah Mhlanga, spokesperson for the DBE, told Maverick Citizen that the department is aware of the many ECD centres operating without registration.

“We have not closed the centres as we are committed to increasing the number of children accessing ECD,” he said.

The department has introduced a “registration massification campaign” – “Vangasali” – which uses “jamborees” to bring together ECD practitioners for training and support.

The complexity of registration is due to the role of other government departments in the registration process, according to Mhlanga. As such, representatives of relevant departments attend the jamborees to share the processes that need to be followed by ECD centres seeking to register.

“The DBE is also engaging the relevant departments to ensure there is streamlining of the registration processes,” he said.

“As the DBE, we are doing a regulatory review to see to what extent we can make the required legislative changes for a more streamlined registration process. To this end, the DBE is currently busy with the Second Children’s Amendment Bill and a review of the regulations, norms and standards for ECD programme registration.” DM/MC


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