Eastern Cape Education
||05 August 2012 07:00
Chantal Rutter Dros
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
2012 has seen civil society go head-to-head with government. Earlier this year the public came out in protest against the e-tolling system and secured a temporary victory. Next to come under fire was the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga in the Limpopo textbook debacle which this week saw Cosatu and the ANC Youth League calling for her resignation. Here in the Eastern Cape, where the minister has taken control of the provincial department, she's being taken to task too.
Chantal Rutter Dros (Carte Blanche presenter): "We've just arrived at the High Court in the Eastern Cape where there's a group of very dissatisfied and unhappy people. They say they want teachers; they say they're tired of waiting. They want their salaries and, above all, they want the right to a basic education for their children."
Crowd: "We want teachers! It's about the future of the children!"
Impassioned parents, teachers and community leaders are adding their voices to the growing dissent. Protest organiser, Pastor Neville Goldman says we've reached a tipping point.
Neville Goldman (Protest Organiser): "Service delivery is not happening; children are hungry; textbooks are not arriving; teachers are not in classes; teachers are not paid."
Inside the court advocates are doing last minute preparations before the case is to be heard before Judge Clive Plaskett. Steven Budlender is representing the Legal Resources Centre; Matthew Chaskalson is representing Section 27 as a friend of the court; Selby Mbenenge is representing provincial government; and Sally Collett is here on behalf of the Minister.
Just hours before, the Department settled with the NGO coalition led by Grahamstown Legal Resources Centre director Sarah Sephton. They agreed to pay temporary teachers and to make adequate post provisions for 2013.
Sarah Sephton (Legal Resources Centre): "Obviously we are very happy. We are happy that we don't have to risk appearing before a court to argue and convince a court that we are entitled to 99% of what we are asking. When you look at the issues that we agreed upon, they are issues that pertain to their jobs. We actually asked them to do their job."
The Department has confirmed that they are able to pay the temporary teachers. But the settlement did not cover non-educator staff and, in court, Steven Budlender got straight to the point.
Adv Steven Budlender (Repressing Legal Resources Centre): "It's common cause on these papers that in order to run these schools properly you need proper support staff and yet they are not being provided."
Judge Plaskett agreed that it was a Constitutional consideration.
Judge Clive Plaskett: "Questions arise of security of persons and dignity and so on."
Chantal: "One of the main arguments in court was for a budget for support staff like maintenance, cleaning and security personnel. And, looking around me, I can see why."
Coega Primary is a perfect example of how a school can deteriorate without support staff. The school has 1 200 learners, but no windows, no electricity, no running water and no working toilets, which means learners aren't able to attend a full day. The classrooms are littered with broken desks and few remnants of learning. We found a despondent lone learner in his class.
Gervan (Learner): "I feel horrible because there's nothing left at school. A few of the children run on the desks and break them."
Gervan says he visits the school every afternoon to keep an eye on the vandals.
Gervan: "I have to watch what's going on... that's why I always come to school to see who's here, who is playing at the school, so that I can report on it the next day."
With only one groundsman responsible for cleaning, maintenance and daytime security, Thobile says all he really has time for is to report break-ins and to pick up the pieces. Even the teachers here work in fear.
Thobile Frans (Groundsman): "The teachers did not want to go outside the class because they are afraid of the thugs."
The plumbing in the bathrooms has been vandalised and stolen, leaving the learners without water or working toilets.
Thobile: "Because the thugs, they take the taps. When the toilet is right, the children, they are getting water inside the toilet."
Chantal: "It seems nonsensical that behind these doors lawyers are arguing technicalities while in the classrooms children are sitting without textbooks and without teachers."
In written response, the Education Department assured us there was an action plan for schools without basic services. The minister's legal team was opting for a technical defence.
Adv Sally Collett (Representing the Minister of Education): "My lord, our position is simply this: we are not opposing the appointment of non-educators; we are simply saying that it must be done within the prescripts of the law."
The defence argued that the Department was not obliged by law to provide non-educator staff like Thobile, protecting Coega Primary from thugs. Section 27's Mark Heywood, who has thrown his weight behind the cause, says it's a no brainer.
Mark Heywood (Section 27): "Many of these schools don't have anybody doing support work, anybody doing administrative work. So that will allow us to bring in less skilled and semi-skilled people into our schools to look after the general school environment and it will allow teachers to do what they are meant to do, which is teach."
Given that the province last year reneged on promises and even a court order to provide teaching staff, Section 27 pre-empted a loophole in government's argument.
Adv Matthew Chaskalson (Representing Section 27): "The national and provincial departments are applying a de facto moratorium that we are told has been in place since the 1990s in relation to non-educative posts. And even now they hold out against any relief in relation to these posts."
The moratorium declared in 1996, still in place 16 years later, is central to the case.
Sarah: "I think that the schools kind of have been absorbing more and more blows and I suppose because it happened incrementally over time, because, what it meant was that every time a non-educative staff died, resigned, moved, their post would not be filled.
Chantal: "Shouldn't it be reviewed?"
Sarah: "It should be... it should be reviewed annually."
Mark: "It is unlawful for a provincial government, for an administration - not the legislature - for an administration to say, 'We don't have money, therefore there's a moratorium on all non-teaching staff,' when the effect of that moratorium is basically to undermine a fundamental human right, which in this case is the right to basic education."
As expected, a funding counter-argument formed the basis of the province's heads of argument.
Adv Selby Mbenenge (Representing Provincial Government): "The Eastern Cape Provincial Treasury directed the head of the Department of Education Eastern Cape to immediately stop all appointments and written instructions to all districts except for appointments relating to the 2012 post declaration."
Judge Plaskett: "They must have been budgeted for. That's the only rational way it can work - that you fit your budget to your personnel. Then what purpose does a moratorium serve because you have the money?"
But at school level, often the budgeted numbers of staff and the actual number paid for by the Department varies. Samantha Paige, Chairman of Victoria Park Grey's governing body in Port Elizabeth, says it's left them under-staffed.
Samantha Paige (Chair: School Governing Body): "At the beginning of this year we were given a quota of 19 permanent positions, of which the Department of Education is only carrying 10 salaries."
To make up the shortfall they have hired three temporary teachers.
Samantha: "These three teachers at the school are performing those duties and only receiving 50% of their salary. So they are not 50% teachers; they are full time teachers."
Geraldine de Lauwere is one of these teachers - she says they are battling.
Geraldine de Lauwere (Teacher): "We have a staff member who has been appointed temporarily for three years. This year they haven't paid her at all. They have promised to pay her. She was reliant on x amount coming in. They've had to sell their house."
At least at Victoria Park the learners have had teachers - other schools have not been able to afford it.
Sarah: "They declared 64 000-odd posts and that meant that when they made that declaration they made it cognisant of their budget. But the reality was that they didn't have the required number of funded posts in their staff establishment. And we're not talking about July 2012 and some children have not had a teacher the whole year."
Back in court, like the judge, the civil society coalition wasn't buying the budget defence either.
Adv Budlender: "The right to education, unlike other socio-economic rights, has been made clear to be immediately realisable. There is no internal limitation requiring that the right be progressively realised, within available resources, subject to reasonable legislative measures."
With the budget argument sewn up, the defence bizarrely held firm that they had no statutory obligation to hire non-educator staff.
Adv Mbenenge: "If your lordship finds that there is, in terms of Section 52, an obligation on behalf of the Department to declare non-educator posts as well, we say, in so far as that is the requirement, then we are hit by the moratorium."
Sarah says it's been a frustrating journey.
Sarah: "They arrive at court ill-prepared, they take... the minister raised virtually no defence on the papers other than that it was budgetary... for budgetary reasons that it couldn't be implemented in full. The minister then argues that it is not urgent. The fact that we haven't had teachers for... our clients haven't had teachers for seven months, means that, really, what's the urgency now?"
Despite the national department of education taking over the administration of the beleaguered Eastern Cape, not much seems to have changed.
In its response, the Department said that interventions of this nature often took a while to bear fruit, that the situation was improving and was already much better than last year.
Sarah: "We have seen no improvement at all and there is some doubt as to whether the minister fully understands that actually she is obliged to ensure that, if the provincial Department of Education does not do what they are statutorily obliged to do, she actually has to step in and do it."
Mark believes it's one of the most important cases on education in our post-apartheid history.
If government stalls, Pastor Goldman warns, they will have to face the wrath of the people.
Neville: 'Enough is enough! People have had enough. If we do not rise up corporately, 1976 will be a drop in the ocean to what 2012 will produce."
Then on Friday afternoon, in a victory for civil society and teachers and learners of the Eastern Cape, Judge Clive Plaskett ordered that the Education Department must not only provide schools with teachers, but also non-teaching staff for 2013. The Education Department was ordered to pay costs.
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