Once Again Our Children Are Being Evicted from Schools

Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Release
Friday, 6 February 2009

Once Again Our Children Are Being Evicted from Schools

Every child has a right to a decent education. Every child has a right to dignity in school. These principles are not negotiable.

Abahlali baseMjondolo has a yearly calendar. The last struggle of the year is usually against evictions because Christmas is always the worst time for evictions. Every year the first struggle is to get our children into schools. Before the movement was formed each family waged this struggle alone. Since 2006 we have run an annual back to school campaign. We run workshops informing people of their rights, we provide parents with fee exemption forms and help them to complete the forms, and we negotiate with schools and school governing bodies. We have to confront all kinds of discrimination against poor people and we have to confront racism. The first challenge is to get our children into schools. The second challenge is to ensure that our children are treated with dignity once they are in the schools.

There are laws and policies that are there to secure the right of all children to access schools and to be treated with dignity in schools. But, just as with the right to occupy land unlawfully without arbitrary evictions, and the right to march and speak freely against the government, these laws and policies are usually just ignored when it comes to the poor. Some principals – like some police officers, the land invasions unit, politicians and even some lawyers at the legal aid board seem to believe that the poor are beneath the law.

The first problem at our schools is that poor people can’t afford to pay the fees or to buy uniforms and stationery. Some schools will not accept children without fees, money for text books, a full set of stationery and full school uniforms. Some schools demand that fees are paid for the whole year instead of by term.

At the primary school in Motala Heights in Pinetown lots of children from the shacks have been turned away and the secretary won’t let their parents speak to the principal. When they asked to meet the principal security drove them away. The security often chase poor parents and African parents away. In Motala Heights the schools only go to grade ten and this year when the older kids went on the bus to the high school in Wyebank the people in Wyebank stoned the bus and pulled the driver out. The driver took the children to Wyebank and then brought them back. He was threatened not to return to the area with the children from Motala Heights.

In KwaMashu the high school in Castle Hill refuses to take the children from the shacks. When the poor parents ask for fee exemption forms they are told to ‘top up’ the exemption with R300 a month. Here the issue is not race – it is just a question of class because every one is African.

Shack dwellers in Joe Slovo (Durban) are facing the problem that the wealthy parents at Chatsworth High School have dominated all the meetings and so the issues of fees and safety are influenced by the rich parents. The same thing happens in Motala Heights. There the poor parents did attend the meetings of the School Governing Body but the principle looked so badly at the poor parents and always put them down. This is why the poor parents stopped attending the meetings.

This issue of money has created conflict between communities and teachers. We recognise that the government is highly irresponsible and wastes hundreds of millions of rand on luxuries like stadiums but fails to give schools enough money to pay teacher’s salaries, buy chalk and books or pay water and electricity bills. We recognise that this is not the fault of teachers. Where ever possible we will work to unite communities and teachers and principals to work together to pressurise government to give enough money to schools.

We know that teachers are under pressures in other kinds of ways. Sometimes teachers have to be security guards as well as teachers. We are happy to support the teachers with these kinds of problems so that they can focus on being teachers.

However some teachers, secretaries and principals are exploiting the good will of communities to force the poor to pay what the government should be paying. It is easier to intimidate and bully a poor person than to stand up to the government. But this is not right.

In some schools poor parents are forced to come in and clean the schools because they cannot afford school fees. In some schools the children are humiliated and punished because their parents cannot afford school fees. In many schools the end of year results are not released to families that have outstanding fees. This forces many families to use all their December money, often also borrowing, to pay their debts to the schools. They then have to spend Christmas with nothing.

Children are often excluded from schools because their first language is not English.

Some children don’t have parents and therefore don’t have documents. It often happens that even if we get a letter from social workers to say that they are undocumented orphans they are still not accepted.

Some children don’t have documents because of the xenophobia of the Department of Home Affairs. They can also be refused access to schools.

However the law clearly states that no child can be denied access to a school on the basis of race, class, or language. The law clearly states that it is the principal’s responsibility to facilitate access for every child. It is illegal for a principal to ask for a registration fee to secure a place for a child, to withhold results for fees, to humiliate or punish children whose parents have not paid fees or to make parents who cannot pay fees to clean the school.

The law clearly states that orphans cannot be charged fees, that foster parents are exempt from paying fees, that everyone getting a grant or pension is exempt from paying, that schools must make provision for children whose parents can not afford stationery, and that schools cannot charge loan fees for text books.

The law clearly states that parents who earn less than ten times the school fees for a year do not have to pay anything and that parents who earn between ten and thirty times the school feels for a year can get a partial fee exemption.

In all the areas we are encouraging the poor parents and, where there is a problem of racism, the African parents to attend the school meetings. We recognise that parents are often afraid to attend meetings after being humiliated by secretaries and chased away by securities in the past. Therefore we work to build the courage of parents against hatred of the poor and hatred of Africans. We do this by showing parents that they are not alone and that together they can be strong.

When the principals show this hatred we always start by trying to educate them about the laws and policies that protect the rights of the poor. We always start by trying to negotiate. But when principals refuse to obey the law and refuse to respect poor people and African people we will march on them and picket their schools. We will report their behaviour to the Department of Education and when necessary we will take them to court.

In order to prepare ourselves so that we can lead our leaders we need to educate ourselves. We are fully aware that education does not stop at the school gate. We all need to keep learning all the time. This is why we always try to get our members into adult education programmes. This is why we always strongly support the Socialist Student’s Movement in their struggle for free university education.

But we also need to learn independently of forms of education that are really teaching us to know our place in the world. As a movement that is moving out of the places in which the poor are supposed to be kept, and moving out of the order that the poor are supposed to obey, we have to think for ourselves. This is why we started our own library. This is why we started the University of Abahlali baseMjondolo where we have formal classes and graduations and where we also create places to think, together, about our lives and our struggle. Everyday we learn together through discussions about our struggles. Right now, as another school year starts, we are relearning the lesson that as the poor we are still foreigners in our own country. Just as we are driven out of the cities and into government shacks in rural human dumping grounds our children are driven out of the schools.

As Abahlali baaseMjondolo we stand firm for the right of every child living in South Africa to access decent education without regard to the financial status, race, language or country of origin of their family. This principle is not negotiable.

All parents who are having problems with accessing their schools, or with ensuring the dignity of their children in schools, or who need to get fee exemption forms or who need help in completing the fee exemption forms can contact:

Abahlali baseMjondolo: 031 269 1822

The Education Rights Project: 011 717 3355

The Paulo Freire Institute: 033 260 6186

For more information or comment on the ongoing and illegal evictions of poor children from government schools please contact:

Ivor Baatjes, Paulo Freire Institute: 033 260 6186
Shamita Naidoo, Chairperson of the Motala Heights Abahlali baseMjondolo branch: 078 224 5441
Zodwa Nsibande Abahlali baseMjondolo General Secretary: 082 830 2707
Mazwi Nzimande, President of the Abahlali baseMjondolo Youth League (and grade 12 learner): 074 222 8601
Britt Sable, Paulo Freire Institute: 033 260 6186
S’bu Zikode, Abahlali baseMjondolo President: 083 547 0474

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