PROTEST DAY 5
Taxi strike impact — Matric learners threatened at rank, almost half a million blocked from Western Cape schools
A matric learner at a taxi rank is told - 'We told you to stay home. Go back home and sleep!' She is among the 456,020 learners who were prevented from getting to school on Monday as a result of the ongoing violent taxi strike in the Western Cape. A total of 17,449 staff members were also unable to get to work. Equal Education has called for urgent resolution and ‘for both parties to find common ground’.
One of the hopeful commuters who made their way to the Samora Machel taxi rank on Monday morning is a grade 12 learner — Nwabisa Amahle Vanyaza (18) who attends Livingstone High School in Claremont.
Vanyaza was chased away by stone throwers who yelled “We told you to stay home. Go back home and sleep!”
Vanyaza is agitated that she has to miss school as she is missing out on important school work that she will be tested on in the upcoming preliminary exams. She is due to write her preliminary exams from 4 September and is afraid that she will not be able to keep up with the syllabus.
“According to my school, you cannot be absent this much especially when you are close to your assessments and exams. I’m supposed to start writing on the 4th of September. How am I supposed to finish the syllabus when I’m already five days absent?”, said Vanyaza.
Samora Machel in Mitchells Plain is one of the hotspots where taxi strike-related violence is at its peak and where a City of Cape Town vehicle was hijacked this morning. The working-class community members and schoolgoers are trapped in Samora where the main exit out of the township is blocked.
Days of unchecked violence
Vanyaza had experienced the brutality of the ongoing strike firsthand since Thursday. She and her schoolmates had to walk the long distance from Claremont to Samora due to the sudden withdrawal of taxis, presence of road blocks and the scarcity of alternative transportation, as buses and private cars were attacked and burnt allegedly by members of the taxi industry.
“What makes me angry is that on Thursday we had to walk from school to our homes. It is very unsafe but we had no choice because there was no transport. This morning I tried going to school but we were chased back. It’s really getting out of hand because we have to go to school, especially us grade 12s”, said Vanyaza.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Chaos, arson and threats of legal action after Cape taxi drivers begin strike
Schools and education severely affected
In a statement released on Friday, by Western Cape Minister of Education David Maynier revealed that 287,420 learners hade not been able to access their constitutional right to to basic education due to the ongoing Santaco Western Cape minibus strike. The statement read that 9,508 teachers were prevented from fulfilling their assigned task of educating children as violence and absenteeism were experienced across the province — most significantly in the metro education district.
By 7 August, these figures had ballooned dramatically, according to an updated statement from Maynier.
“The Santaco-WC minibus taxi strike prevented 456,020 learners and 17,449 staff members from getting to school today, with the Cape Town metro education districts being the worst affected,” read the statement.
“27 schools had to close today, and a number of other schools allowed learners to leave early if needed.”
Although MEC Maynier had initially declared that schools would remain open despite the ongoing strike, the heightened violence by members of the taxi industry overnight on Sunday — which included shootings and the burning of cars and infrastructure due to an unsuccessful meeting between Santaco and the Western Cape Government (WCG) — was a clear indication that things will get worse as the day unfolded.
There had also been a vast circulation of information about schools being targeted and burned as part of the taxi strike but MEC Mynier declared this information to be fake news, as no school had reported such incidents.
Unfortunately, some schools had to forcefully close on Monday either due to protest activity in the community or because of unverified news causing parents to panic.
“Please, don’t share fake news that you have not verified. Adding to the chaos is irresponsible and puts our learners at risk”, said MEC Maynier.
Principal AM Krüger of Parow Hoërskool said, “we’re operating normal, everyone is here.
“I can’t give further comments, that’s all I can say,” Krüger said.
In a statement, Equal Education said that the strike is threatening learners’ ability to access schools safely.
As tensions between the Western Cape Government and Santaco grow, and with the strike continuing this week, many learners and their families living on the outskirts of Cape Town rely on public transport to get to and from school and are mostly affected, said the statement.
“Learners are either forced to make other plans to travel to school or to stay at home if the situation in their community is particularly tense or if schools are closed as a result. Even learners who use private transport or walk to school may also be affected if violent attacks such as torching and stone-throwing of vehicles continue.”
In an interview with Newzroom Afrika on Monday, Western Cape Sadtu Secretary Sibongile Kwazi spoke on the impact of the taxi strike on the education sector in the province.
“The situation is very bad and for us. It’s not only the learners but also the teachers because their lives are also threatened. As Sadtu, it means that we live in a divided society because the instructions from the powers was that schools will not close which means it is safe for others to go to school while it is unsafe for others and unfortunately those who are unable to access schools today are the poor,” said Kwazi.
Schools like Langa High School and Peakview High School have returned to online virtual learning. Communicating with their grade 12 learners through WhatsApp group chats, the schools share activities with learners to keep them on track and help keep up with the syllabus.
Elsewhere, the Golden Arrow Simon’s Town depot is currently closed and Steve Joubert, Fish Hoek High School principal has advised parents to seek alternative transport arrangements to ensure the safety of their children.
“We recognise that many of our learners may struggle to get to school due to the ongoing taxi strike and potentially linked intimidation. We encourage parents to reach out to their children and consider having friends or a classmate sleep over for a few nights to support those with transport challenges”, said Joubert.
Domino effect of strike action
Meanwhile, in one of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s residences, Le-Ruth house, coordinator Janet Nontas told Daily Maverick, “We’re unable to work because there is no transportation for most of the cleaners.
“A lot of them stay in Delft which is one of the hotspots so their situation is dire currently, dirt has piled up in the students’ kitchens.
“This strike affects everyone, even myself. I feel the pain of it because my children are affected. They can’t go to school, in Delft High School.
“It has a major impact not only on the working class but even people that work with students and learners. This situation is sad.”
One of the Cape Organisation for the Democratic Taxi Association (Codeta) leaders, Thembekile Andrew Gcwabe wrote a public letter confirming that “The taxi strike which has started on Wednesday 3rd of August 2023 is going to end on Wednesday 9th of August, therefore, the taxis will start operating on Thursday the 10th of August 2023”.
Not the first time
Equal Education pointed out in its statement that this was not the first time this year that learning in the province has been disrupted because of tensions between the provincial government and Santaco.
In February 2023, nearly 5,000 learners were prevented from travelling to school due to a taxi blockade.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Cape Town learners stranded by ‘taxi mafia’ blocking scholar transport
Equal Education said in its statement, “In 2022, a taxi strike almost disrupted the matric examinations when 128,000 learners in the province were kept from accessing their schools. These flare-ups have serious consequences for learners and school communities in marginalised areas like townships, where it is difficult to change routines and plans to accommodate disruptions to access to school and work.
“Learners are being denied their right to learn and access crucial school-based programmes like the National School Nutrition Programme for as long as they are unable to access schools or enter classrooms. Matric learners are losing out on curriculum coverage and exam preparation at a crucial time in their school year. Many of these learners have already experienced numerous setbacks such as the Covid-19 disruptions and rolling blackouts in their schooling journey. Learners simply cannot afford to lose any more teaching and learning time.
“While protest action is an important political tool, the current situation is disappointing especially because it leaves children and our schools vulnerable. We appeal to both parties to find common ground. The provincial government and Santaco need to take action right away and prioritise the safety of learners and our school communities.” DM