No room for learners: parents start school in tent

Hundreds of Mfuleni parents brought their children to a tent in a field in Bardale which is used as a school. Photo by Mary-Anne Gontsana.

Mary-Anne Gontsana

29 January 2015

Hundreds of learners are using a tent in Mfuleni’s Bardale neighbourhood as a school after parents say they were turned away from primary and high schools in the area which are full.

The makeshift school started yesterday. Volunteers, which included trainee teachers as well as people from the Mfuleni community who wanted to help, did the teaching. It was a bit chaotic as a large part of the morning was spent registering the students. Although the children ranged from Grade R to Grade 8, most were in Grade R. Classes, such as basic Xhosa for the Grade Rs, started by mid-morning.

The blue and white tent is usually used by the Apostolic Faith Mission church. It is situated next to a busy road. Students sat on the sandy floor covered with thin mats, while as the morning went by parents continued to bring in their children.

The learners crammed from one side of the tent to the other. They were dressed in school uniform: white shirts and grey pants or skirts. The tent was hot. It was also noisy because of the multiple activities taking place, but the children listened attentively to their teacher.

One of the parents, Nomzi Wambi, says she was “heartbroken” about the school situation.

“I have two children, one in a school in Mfuleni and one who was turned away from Bardale Primary, and who is now one of the learners in the tent. We will not give up. We will fight for our children until they receive proper education,” says Wambi.

One of Nomzi Wambi’s children was turned away from Bardale Primary. Photo by Mary-Anne Gontsana.

Thembisa Stemela, one of the volunteer teachers, is responsible for about 90 Grade R learners. She says, “I finish my teaching course in June this year.” She is studying foundation phase teaching through UNISA. She says, “I heard about this situation through a friend whose child was turned away.”

A Grade 6 learner who identified himself as Sihle says that last year he attended school in Delft before he and his family were moved to Mfuleni. “All I want to do is to learn. All my other friends are in normal schools,” he says.

Bongani Tyembile, community leader and ANC Youth League chairperson in the area, says he had been told by some parents on 12 January that there was a crisis in the area and three schools were turning learners away, saying the schools were full and could not take any more learners.

“Parents are angry, because they don’t know what do or where to go because their children need an education. So after the church was kind enough to let us use the tent, we held a meeting last night and mobilised people who were unemployed but had qualifications and experience in teaching, to volunteer their time and come and teach the learners in the tent today,” says Tyembile.

He says most of the parents concerned had been moved temporarily by the authorities from places like Khayelitsha and Nyanga to Mfuleni to wait for houses.

Jessica Shelver, the spokesperson for Debbie Shafer, the Western Cape MEC for Education, in an email to GroundUp, says that the education district had met with the community leaders to address their concerns. “Their immediate demand was for a new school. The Department advised the community leaders that they would be able to assist with placement of learners,” wrote Shelver.

Shelver says that the education department has held a meeting with principals in the area to “determine placement options.” She says, “Another meeting was called this week with community members so that the unplaced learners details could be verified so that we could then assist with the placement of these learners. This meeting was disruptive and names could not be verified.”

Shelver says that another meeting has been scheduled for today, “so that we can again, try to determine the numbers, grades [and] origin of the unplaced learners so that we can place them in schools. However, we need the cooperation of the community to achieve this.”

Children sitting down inside the tent, waiting for their lesson to start. Photo by Mary-Anne Gontsana.