More than 450 learners are receiving tuition on a field adjacent to Old Faure Road, next to Forest Village, Eerste River, in Cape Town’s northern suburbs.

Over the past two years, thousands of people were moved from informal settlements to housing developments in the area.

Parents say schools in the area are at capacity and offer tuition in English and Afrikaans.

Learners from Grade R to 11 attend the Empumelelweni Combined School which translates to the school of success.

Community concern

A crate or a bucket serves as a chair and desk as the sun beats down on the 457 learners neatly dressed in their school uniform. School starts at 8am.

It is the heart of summer and the few trees on the field offer no shade from the harsh weather conditions. Donations help educators feed the pupils a daily meal. The educators are volunteering their services.

Learners and educators have ablution facilities in the neighbouring areas. Community leader Goodman Velebayi says the provincial education department has offered to transport the children to schools, 10 kilometers away in areas including Khayelitsha.

But this, he says, is not a viable solution due to high crime levels and they fear for the safety of the younger children. He says authorities have inspected Forest Village and found no site for a school in the area.

“It is a right for our children to get an education. It is a right for the community to have a school nearby where they stay. Our children are from schools that have Xhosa as a first language. We also want a school around here in Forest Village, with isiXhosa as a first language. We don’t mean that Afrikaans is not going to be there; we don’t mean that English is not going to be; all the languages will be there, but the priority is for Xhosa – our language.”

Nolizwe Ndikandika’s child is in Grade 1 at the makeshift school. She says her 8-year-old son is too young to travel alone.

“My child is small (sic) and I’m worried about that. We can’t go to Khayelitsha because the sun is too hot. It gets windy sometimes and there are rainy days. I’m not satisfied.”

Finding solution

The Western Cape Education Department says the community has allegedly created an illegal school in an attempt to strong-arm them into building a school.

The department says it has been confronted by similar attempts like this in the past where certain teachers are vying for jobs through this kind of action by community members.

Spokesperson, Bronagh Hammond says at the end of last year they had offered various alternatives, but this was rejected by the community.

“We cannot simply appoint teachers or create new schools in such a manner. We have to consider a variety of factors including the fact that other areas have more serious challenges with regards to admissions and should be prioritised. The list of unplaced learners submitted by the task team also seems incorrect. Many of the names have no ID numbers or contact numbers attached. Some of the numbers are of random people from all over the province or country from Ashton in the Western Cape to Gauteng. We will continue to engage with the parents of the community on the placement of their children. Unfortunately, those that refuse to take up our offers are doing so at the detriment of their children’s education.”

In the Western Cape, 7 438 learners have not yet been placed in schools for the 2021 academic year.

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