Violence as Sadtu disrupts tests in Khayelitsha

Student accuses principal of pulling a knife on her

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Photo of students pushing into school gates
Students from Bulumko and Joe Slovo Senior Secondary Schools come to disrupt tests at Injongo Primary School. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

A student from Bulumko Senior Secondary School in Khayelitsha has accused the principal of another school of pulling a knife on her when students entered his school to stop the writing of tests. But the principal says he picked the knife up from the ground where it had been dropped by a student.

On Thursday morning a group of learners from Bulumko and Joe Slovo Senior Secondary Schools in Khayelitsha, and members of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), entered Injongo Primary School to stop the systemic tests which learners were writing.

Each learner writes these tests, in language and mathematics, once every three years and the Western Cape Education Department says it uses the results to measure the quality of the education system. Sadtu is opposed to the tests which it says are not helpful to teachers.

Student Sinesipho Sidziya said Injongo principal Sithembile Mhletywa pulled a knife from his pocket and chased her while she was trying to grab test papers from him.

When GroundUp arrived at Injongo, police were keeping students outside the school premises. Some students were shouting, “Why is he pulling a knife, why are you not arresting him, why is the principal trying to stab us?”

Parents with whips were standing inside the school premises.

Sidziya, who is a Congress of South African Students (Cosas) provincial executive committee member, told GroundUp that last week Sadtu in Khayelitsha had called a meeting and Cosas had been invited. She said it was agreed at the meeting that no school should write systemic tests.

“Since Tuesday we have been trying to stop the systemic exams from happening. Most schools did not write, and those schools that wrote were forced to hand papers to Sadtu,” said Sidziya.

She told GroundUp that students had heard that tests were being written at Injongo.

“We came here with our teachers to negotiate with the principal to stop these exams. On our arrival we found exams had already started. The principal called police, in no time there were parents armed with whips. They chased us, beating us. I went to the principal to explain to him that we are not fighting but we are doing what our teachers have asked us to do. I did not get a chance a to speak with him, I saw him pulling something out of his pocket. When I looked at his hand I saw a knife. I ran for my life, police were already here,” said Sidziya.

“All I we wanted was to negotiate with him and tell him why we were at his school, but he did not give us a chance,” she said.

Khayelitsha Sadtu secretary Vusi Mahobe said the incident occurred a metre away from him.

“Students were picketing outside the school gate, next thing, men from the area came carrying sjamboks, beating students, it was then when Mhletywa pulled the knife and chased that learner,” he said.

However Mhletywa denied pulling a knife on Sidziya or chasing her. Addressing parents who were at the school soon after the incident, he said that a knife had been dropped by one of the protesting students.

“They forced their way in. We told them to leave the school premises, trying to protect our learners. A knife fell from one of the protesting students, I took it from the ground and it’s in my office,” he said.

School Governing body chairperson Philiswa Marman-Faba agreed with Mhletywa, saying the knife had been dropped by protesting students.

“Everything happened very fast, I saw him when he picked up the knife from the ground. I did not see him chasing anyone with it. The only person who was chasing students with a sjambok was a community member. I stopped him,” she said.

Faba said it was wrong for Sadtu to use students to fight their battles with the WCED.

Phelisa Ntlangeni, Sadtu Khayelitsha branch deputy secretary, said the union was opposed to the tests because instead of helping them, the tests made students and teachers look like failures.

Ntlangeni said teachers at township schools faced overcrowded classes and a lack of resources, yet also had to worry about systemic tests. She said there was no communication between teachers and the WCED about the tests.

“Our learners are failing these exams. The way this paper is set is different from our teaching style. On those papers you find big English words which our learners do not understand. When they fail, the department blames us teachers,” said Ntlangeni.

She said when students failed the tests the WCED did not respond with additional resources.

“We really do not see the use of it. Our schools lack resources and this exam comes towards the end of the year while we are busy with our revision. Now we have to stop and focus on it, and that gives us extra work as teachers,” she said.

In a note to officials and principals, the WCED acting head BK Schreuder said the department was concerned at Sadtu’s call for a boycott of the tests. Schreuder said there had been reports that some officials used the data from the tests “inappropriately” which created “unnecessary resistance and hostility to the programme”. Steps would be taken to correct this.

The objective of the tests was to support the school in its efforts to improve. Improvements in pass rates showed the success of the programme, Schreuder said.

In maths, grade 3 pass rates had risen from 47.5% in 2011 to 57.6% in 2015, grade 6 pass rates from 23.4% to 37.6% and grade 9 pass rates from 10.4% to 22.2%.

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TOPICS:  Education

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