Defend Truth


Right to education: The crisis of 6,000 disenfranchised learners in the Western Cape is a disgrace


Prof Michael le Cordeur is Vice-Dean Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Education at the University of Stellenbosch. He is deputy chair of the Stigting vir die bemagtiging deur Afrikaans.

At least 6,000 Western Cape children have not been placed in schools, which means that 6,000 youngsters have lost the opportunity for a career because someone failed to do their duty.

It is a disgrace that more than 6,000 learners in the Western Cape have not been placed in a school by the end of March. Thousands of learners missed the first term, a violation of their constitutional right to education. As a result, the ANC, SACP, Cosatu, SA Democratic Teachers’ Union and Congress of SA Students have asked the Human Rights Commission to intervene.

It is especially children from historically disadvantaged working-class communities who are still being disadvantaged. In all fairness, the Western Cape is not the only province with this problem. But in no other province is it as bad as in the Western Cape. In the Eastern Cape and Northern Cape, the figure by 15 February was less than 500. Notable is that we experienced the same problem this time last year. It was before the pandemic hit, proof that it is not a Covid-19 problem.

Education authorities have been aware of the problem for a number of years and excuses sound the same every year: there is no money to build schools, and parents apply too late. Trade unions, however, point out that most parents applied timeously and supplied the required documents, but their children were still not placed. The fast-growing learner population, due to migration to the larger cities, is also mentioned as an excuse. Yet the number in our most heavily populated province, Gauteng, was fewer than 2,000 when schools reopened.

Political parties’ response to the crisis predictably deteriorated into political mudslinging. Debbie Schäfer (Western Cape head of education) said the ANC should explain why unaffordable salary hikes were considered while the national education budget had been cut. The ANC and its partners alleged that it was a matter of poor planning and that the DA should get its priorities right. Apparently, millions of rands are being budgeted for vaccines at the expense of learners.

It is time that politicians set aside their mutual differences and focus on the crisis at hand. Now is not the time to score political points. The parents couldn’t care less who is responsible for the problem. They demand that their children be in school. Some of the parents said they had been waiting for two years.

Six thousand children who cannot access education have overwhelming negative consequences for the child, families and communities. It is 6,000 youngsters who have lost the opportunity for a career because someone failed to do his or her duty. That some of them are from the Eastern Cape is irrelevant. They are South Africans and have the right to move to follow job opportunities. We can complain until kingdom come that the government is mismanaging money; it will not solve the problem.

Ironically, until now it was the schools that could least afford it that had to take in extra learners. However, it is not only the problem of poor schools. Covid-19 has forced the government to come up with sustainable solutions, because in many cases 60 learners are crammed into one class. 

Given South Africa’s financial position, I see no other solution but to increase the class ratio from 35 to maybe 38 per class so that more learners can be placed in former Model C schools. It will not only promote transformation, it is the only space that is still available. DM


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

Daily Maverick The Gathering 2024 banner

Daily Maverick has secured an esteemed speaker line-up...

to help make sense of Elections 2024.

Trevor Manuel, Prof Thuli Madonsela and Minister Ronald Lamola are among the latest panellists confirmed for Daily Maverick The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four.

Join us, on Thurs 14 March 2024 at CTICC Cape Town or online wherever you are, for an event that will put the election in perspective.

Become a Maverick Insider

This could have been a paywall

On another site this would have been a paywall. Maverick Insider keeps our content free for all.

Become an Insider