Minister of Education, Western Cape
I condemn in the strongest possible terms this morning’s violence and disorder in the demonstration in Grabouw organized by the Elgin Grabouw Civic Organisation (EGCO). Their actions this morning and over the past week have exposed the organization for what they really are – an organization protecting and promoting their own personal political interests above that of the children and the community of Grabouw.
Members of this organisation continue to disrupt schools, businesses and the general community under the guise that they are protecting the rights of learners at Umyezo Wama Apile school. This, despite a resolution having been found over a week ago and a commitment by this Government to have a new school up and running, in an unprecedented amount of time, by the 10th of April.
Given that the EGCO have since chosen to ignore that a solution has been found, I invited Mr Michels, the chairman of the EGCO, and other representatives of the EGCO to a meeting yesterday to discuss our plan as well as a way forward. After delaying the meeting for a number of hours, Mr Michels insisted on new conditions for the meeting which had been agreed to hours before. On this new basis the meeting could regrettably not go ahead.
This morning, Mr Michels and the EGCO continued their personal political agenda by organizing a protest march that has subsequently turned violent, causing damage to both our schools and to private property.
It is completely unacceptable and immoral for this organization to continue to use the challenges at Umyezo Wama Apile school, challenges that they have been made even worse because of their continued disruption, as an excuse to disrupt further and to destroy the life chances of other learners and business owners in the community.
What disgusts me most is that the safety of our children was today put at risk and their education opportunities compromised.
This morning three schools, Kathleen Murray HS, Pineview PS and Groenberg Secondary were closed in order to protect the safety of learners at these schools.
At Groenberg Secondary, three classrooms were vandalized and protestors attempted to set alight a storeroom containing textbooks. I have received reports that parents of the school took it upon themselves to protect the school and subsequently prevented further damage. I am grateful and thankful for their efforts.
Other schools in the area experienced either low turnout of educators or learners because of parents’ safety concerns or because people were unable to access these schools because of disruption on the roads.
Damage to other private property and businesses has also been reported.
I want to be clear here – this behavior is completely unacceptable. There is no basis whatsoever for this kind of protest action and violence in any circumstance, especially when a solution to the ‘alleged’ concerns has been found.
What we have here is a case of political motives and agendas, attempting to make Grabouw ungovernable, so that personal interests can be served ahead of the upcoming by-elections.
It is deplorable that the victims in this are our children and their future education. Given the events that have occurred in the last few weeks, I thought it was necessary for me to explain the WCED’s role in all this and what we have done to seek a solution for a situation that we have openly recognized as not being ideal.
In 2009, when this Government took power of the Western Cape Province, we immediately saw the need for two new schools, one primary and one secondary, in the Grabouw region.
We immediately sought to identify a piece or pieces of land in which to build the new schools. It soon became apparent that this would not be easy given the terrain of the Grabouw region and the available land. Despite this challenge we prioritized a new school in Grabouw in our infrastructure plan and allocated the necessary budgetary resources for when we acquired suitable land.
A piece of land belonging to the National Government was then identified on which we could build at least one of the permanent schools.
We formally requested the transfer of this land from the National Department of Public works to the Provincial Department of Public Works and Transport in 2009, this was followed by numerous written communications to the Minister’s office in this regard. Other interventions included a personal request by Premier Helen Zille to President Jacob Zuma and subsequent engagements with the Minister of Public Works. We have yet to receive any response to our requests and the matter is still being considered by the National Minister.
In the meantime, other permanent land options were being investigated.
In January 2012, the resources at this school were put under further pressure with the unexpected late arrival of 600 additional learners at the school. We immediately took steps to correct the situation.
The Western Cape Education Department sought a short-term solution in terms of finding a temporary site in which to place additional mobile units, while at the same time, continuing to correspond with the National Government regarding approval for transfer of the permanent site.
Since January, three sites have come to our attention.
The first site at first looked positive, but needed to be investigated because of the environmental sensitivities of the landscape. This investigation took a few weeks with the report indicating that the majority of the land consisted of environmentally sensitive vegetation making it not feasible for construction.
The second site was a sports field that required permission from various local agencies and organisations. Permission that could take months to finalise.
In February, a week before the protest action began, a delegation by the WCED met with officials from the Theewaterskoof Municipality to seek more alternative land. Following this meeting a third piece of land was identified. I have had numerous discussions with the Mayor regarding the acquisition of this land as soon as possible.
We remain positive that permission will be granted, following the correct administrative procedures, and that we will be able to have a new mobile school up and running by the start of the new school term.
The speed at which we have committed to erect this school is unprecedented. However, we are doing all we can to ensure that the process moves as quickly and smoothly as possible, making sure that every step of the process is already planned and ready to go from electricity and water arrangements, furniture and equipment, and the erection of the mobiles themselves.
We will be under pressure, but it’s a commitment we have been prepared to make. We are determined to succeed. We have already asked the school management team of Umyezo Wama Apile to start planning for the separation of the two components of the school (primary and secondary) – which will see around 700 of their high school learners moving to the mobile school, which will consist of around 18 classrooms, next term. This new mobile school will relieve the overcrowding at the existing school where the primary school learners will be housed until we find an alternative site for a permanent school.
The acquisition of two new permanent sites is still at the top of our agenda.
Putting the accommodation needs of learners at the school aside, another priority of ours in the short term is to ensure that learners’ catch-up the work they have missed during this disruptive time. We have developed a comprehensive management plan that aims to ensure that we do everything possible to mitigate the impact of the loss of teaching and learning time.
Educators have been asked to prepare catch-up plans for learners, develop tests for learners for when they return to determine what they have learnt so far, and what areas need to be addressed and to fine-tune work schedules for the remainder of the year. We have also arranged for a specialised Grade 12 programme to ensure that their curriculum needs are met and supported.
We have received reports that the EGCO allegedly plans to disrupt some of these programmes. Again, this only re-emphasises the fact that their actions are not in the best interests of these learners.
I have appealed to Mr Michels before to work with the WCED to find a solution to the accommodation needs of learners in Grabouw.
His actions and the actions of the EGCO reveal that they are determined to work against us and not with us – and in turn, they are jeopardizing the future of these learners when their education interests and well-being should be at the top of their agenda.