Category Archives: school fees

WISER Seminar: Circuits of Schooling and the Production of Space

Circuits of Schooling and the Production of Space: the Household, Education, and Symbolic Struggles after Apartheid

by Mark Hunter

Every weekday morning, in every South African city, scores of taxis, buses, and cars move children, black and white, long distances to attend schools. A simple explanation for the phenomenal rise of out-of-area schooling in South Africa—one perhaps unmatched anywhere in the world—is the end of apartheid’s racially divided schooling system in the 1990s. But focused on south and central Durban, this paper traces the emergence of ten distinct pathways that children take through different schools, referred to as “circuits of schooling.” The social-geographical inequalities that underpin schoolchildren’s movement today, it argues, are rooted in racial segregation under apartheid, rising inequalities within segregated areas from the 1970s, and a decisive shift from race- to class-based inequalities after 1994. However, rather than seeing children’s mobility as unfolding mechanically from social structure, life histories of parents and interviews with schoolteachers demonstrate that it is a) emerging from important gendered socio-spatial transformations in families/households; b) tied up with the reworking of symbolic power, including through the contested status of English language and schoolboy sports like rugby; c) and produced by (and producing) new struggles over space. As such, the paper proposes that the concurrent deracialization of schools, workplaces, and residential areas is marked by a new urban politics in which the “right to the city” and education are deeply intertwined.

Click here to download this paper at the WISER site.

Thembalihle Struggle Against School Exclusions

Excluded learners take to the streets

Kamogelo Seekoei

About 60 parents and their children from the informal settlement of Thembalihle, southwest of Johannesburg, took to the streets of neighbouring Lenasia on Tuesday after failing to find places in schools since they opened nearly month ago.

Their admission problems have been mirrored across the country, according to community representatives, children’s NGOs and helplines, and teacher unions.

Exactly how many exclusions — illegal or otherwise — have occurred remains unknown, but the basic education department said affected children are “mostly in rural areas or on farms”. The department had been monitoring the reopening of schools and about 98% of primary-school children were in classrooms — but it did not know when it would issue its report on the re-opening of schools.

In full uniform, the Thembalihle children were soon joined on their march by 15 high school learners who were also still looking for places.

Bhayzer Miya, a march organiser and member of the Thembalihle Crisis Committee, said principals and the Johannesburg South school district office had sent the children and parents from pillar to post since the schools reopened. Some of the parents had tried to comply with requirements by registering their children last year, but had been turned away even then, he said.

Thembalihle’s parents said the reasons principals had given them for refusing their children included overcrowding, an inability to pay fees and a lack of documentation such as birth certificates.

On the first week of school the crisis committee accompanied parents to schools and were told by one principal that there was a vacant classroom that could accommodate about 45 grade one learners, Miya said.

“We were told to organise 45 grade one learners and bring them the following Monday, but when we got there we were turned back because there was no teacher, furniture and funds for it,” he said.

By Tuesday this week the parents had had enough, saying the excuses they had repeatedly heard from schools boiled down to illegal exclusions. Miya said he suspected the schools were claiming to be full, but in reality did not want children from Thembalihle because many parents could not afford the fees.

“Secretaries take instructions from their principals who then tell parents that if they don’t have money or birth certificates, they have to turn them away,” Miya said.

Nokwakha Dziba said she tried to register her son last October, but was told to return with R450. She had only R200. “When I returned in November, I was told the school was full and placed on a waiting list. I am still waiting even now,” she said.

Tempers flared on Tuesday when a district official identified only as Madam Zwane walked away from the Thembalihle parents and children, saying she wanted to address their leaders. Parents started singing protest songs and called the official back.

“We are tired of being represented,” screamed one mother. Madam Zwane then told parents they were irresponsible and that was why their children were still not in school.

“Would I be standing here if I was irresponsible? Don’t tell me I am irresponsible,” cried one mother as other parents also screamed at the official.

Zwane responded that she had the responsibility of ensuring the grade one learners were in class by next Monday. “The school does not have a vacant classroom, but we will create one for these learners and I will contact you before Monday to let you know if you can bring the children,” she told the parents.

She advised the unplaced high school learners who had joined the march to look for space at other schools, a challenge for those who have already tried that channel.

At another Lenasia school, a learner trying to get admission to grade 11 said she was told she could not be accepted because she did not have Afrikaans.

“The principal just looked at my report and told me that I would not be able to pass because I did not have Afrikaans,” said Nesta Cacadu (17), who has moved from Carltonville to her grandmother’s house in Thembalihle.

Cacadu said she had started looking for a school in January because she moved to Thembalihle only this year. “I really don’t know what else to do. I have tried and I am worried about the work that I am missing out on,” she said.

Orphaned twin sisters Shirley and Sylvia Mohanoe (19), who stay with their uncle, said the schools had told them registration was closed. “This is so frustrating. We have tried all we can and there is no help anywhere,” said Sylvia.

One Lenasia principal, Nobbie Maharaj, said: “I just don’t have space here.”

Another principal, Sudesh Singh, blamed parents. “In poorer areas many parents have this lethargic attitude towards their children’s education. Others will take initiative while others have many excuses.” He said when parents registered their children last year, some were accepted and others placed on a waiting list.

Thembalihle children get classroom

Kamogelo Seekoei & David MacFarlane

The determination of residents in Thembalihle, an informal settlement southwest of Johannesburg, who took to the streets of neighbouring Lenasia three weeks ago to get their children into school, has paid off.

The Mail & Guardian reported on February 4 that about 60 Thembalihle parents and their children had protested in Lenasia that week after being turned away repeatedly from schools since they reopened on January 12. Fifteen high school learners who had also been excluded from schools in the area joined the march.

After heated exchanges with the marchers, a Gauteng education department official conceded that it was her responsibility to ensure the primary school learners would have a classroom, teacher and furniture by the following week.

Now 42 grade one learners are in a classroom especially created for them at Zodiac Primary School, although they did not have a teacher until Monday this week, said Bhayzer Miya, a member of the Thembalihle Crisis Committee. The 15 high school learners have also found places, in Moses Marena and Azara Secondary schools, said Miya.

Sudesh Singh, the principal of Zodiac Primary, said the school would create catch-up programmes for the 42 grade one learners, who had lost about a month of schooling. “I would not say they missed out on much because, generally, the first term is used to help grade one learners settle into school,” Singh said.

Long-standing problem

The exclusion of learners in the area is a long-standing problem. In January 2005, the M&G reported that about 200 learners and parents had been locked out of Azara Secondary because the school had declared itself “full”. At the time the department said only the provincial minister could declare a school full, not the principals.

This week Gauteng education department spokesperson Charles Phahlane said parents in Thembalihle were not aware of admissions procedures. Once the department became aware of the problem, “officials were immediately assigned to the area… and assisted parents in placing their children”. Phahlane said Gauteng was making strides in reducing the number of late admissions. “As at January 27, 12 902 applications for late admissions had been received,” he said. The province has more than two million learners.

“This is an improvement on past years. In early 2010 we had 25 415 late registrations and the trend was similar in previous years,” he said. Meanwhile, in the Eastern Cape this week, education department superintendent general Modidima Mannya was still unable to provide details of the “white male principals at former Model C schools” he earlier claimed were the chief culprits in illegally excluding learners.

The M&G last month reported Mannya’s anger at widespread exclusions across the province and his determination that a task team report he had ordered would provide details of culprits against whom he would act. This week he said he had only a “preliminary” report and could not specify which schools were involved in illegal exclusions. Some of them were “not former Model Cs”.

The preliminary report further suggested that some school governing bodies (SGB) had instructed principals to exclude learners. “Officials will investigate whether SGB policies are inconsistent with government policy because that can’t be accepted,” Mannya said.

Ricky Govender Bulldozes the Motala Heights Shembe Temple

Sunday 16 January 2011
Abahlali baseMotala Heights Press Statement

Ricky Govender Bulldozes the Motala Heights Shembe Temple

The notorious gangster landlord Ricky Govender has bulldozed the Motala Heights Shembe Temple. This surprise attack on our community and our culture was carried out without warning or notification and we hereby give notice that we will not allow Ricky Govender to vandalize our community or our culture.


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Unlawful Attacks on Education Rights in Motala Heights

Motala Heights Abahlali baseMjondolo Branch
Press Statement 6 January 2010

Unlawful Attacks on Education Rights in Motala Heights

Today people are celebrating the matric results across the country. Here in Motala Heights, as in many poor communities around the country, we are planning our resistance to the illegal exclusion of poor children from our country's schools. Every year the first campaign on the Abahlali baseMjondolo calendar is the struggle to keep our children in school and to have them respected in school.

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The Underside of South African Democracy

The Underside of South African Democracy

Date posted: 13 October 2009
View this article online here:

Richard Pithouse

Abahlali baseMjondolo is a shackdwellers’ movement. It was formed by and for shack dwellers in Durban in 2005. Since then the movement has extended to cities like Pietermartizburg and Cape Town. It now has members in 54 settlements.

The movement has campaigned, with considerable success, against unlawful evictions by the state and private landowners. It has also campaigned, with significant although limited success, for access to basic services and for the upgrade of settlements where people live rather than forced removal to houses or ‘transit camps’ in peripheral ghettoes far from work, schools and health care.

The movement has also organised to ensure that poor children can access good schools and that poor people get fair access to policing services. As well as making demands on the state, it has built and run a number of crèches, developed vegetable gardens and set up various education projects and a well-stocked library.

All of this is easily understood in civil society through the languages of ‘service delivery’, ‘popular participation in development’ and ‘self-help’ or, even, ‘social entrepreneurship’. But these achievements are grounded in the sometimes dangerous political work of the movement and this fact has been much more difficult for civil society to grasp.

The movement’s political work is not to compete for electoral office. It specifically refuses electoral politics and aims, instead, to build the power of the poor against that of local elites in and out of the state. This is often dangerous work because in many places in our country democracy remains an aspiration rather than a reality. It is not unusual for poor people to live under the control of local elites who do not allow basic political freedoms.

These authoritarian local elites can be white famers, traditional leaders, gangsters (sometimes masquerading as ‘businessmen’) or party political elites. These various forms of local despotism are often able to exercise a significant degree of control over the local state and its development initiatives and in some cases they can brazenly direct the police as if they were a private militia rather than a public service.

Abahlali baseMjondolo has struggled against all of these modes of local despotism. In many cases the first struggle that the movement has taken up in an area has had to be for the simple right to exist. Although the movement has had important success in these struggles there are a number of areas in which the attempt to create a politics of the poor independent from control by local elites has been effectively contained from the outset or quickly defeated. When the right to an independent politics has been achieved it has often been a fragile opening.

When civil society does recognise that there are spaces of exception where basic democratic rights are not available to all it is often assumed that these spaces will be steadily drawn into the democratic mainstream as ‘democracy is consolidated’. But local forms of despotism are not always a fading hangover from the past. They are often essential and constitutive features of the present.

For instance there are shack settlements in Durban in which there is a long-standing and complete ban on non-ANC activity backed up with armed force. In these settlements any independent political activity is met with credible threats of violence and sometimes also expulsion via the demolition of one’s home. The ANC does not oppose this. On the contrary it relies on it to deliver votes, to contain dissent and to engineer the appearance of consent for highly unpopular ‘development’ strategies such as forced removals to the urban periphery. This reality compels us to recognise that the endemic political despotism at the bottom of society is not a temporary lag from the rest of society but part of its foundation.

Since 2005, the local Development Committee in Kennedy Road, an elected structure, has affiliated itself to Abahlali baseMjondolo and the movement built its office and library there. In recent days the movement has been under sustained attack in the Kennedy Road settlement. It started with an armed assault and the refusal of the police to come to the aid of people under attack. It was followed up by the patently political arrest of some of the local leadership on criminal charges and the hounding of the rest of the local leadership out of the settlement via death threats and the systematic demolition of their homes. After this, local ANC leaders from other settlements seized control of the settlement. The police have made no intervention, despite repeated requests, to defend the elected leadership in the settlement from a violent coup or to stop the ongoing purge of Abahlali baseMjondolo activists from the settlement.

In some respects what has happened in Kennedy Road is a restoration of the status quo rather than a new exception to it. For instance, Lindela Figlan, who was the elected chair of the Kennedy Road Development Committee and is now a political refugee, had to leave the Burnwood settlement in 2007 under threat of having his home demolished. His ‘crime’ was the same then as now – supporting an independent poor people’s movement in a settlement where a ban had been imposed on any political activity outside of the ANC.

Some of the local ANC leaders from nearby settlements that seized control of Kennedy Road in the first days after the attack have a long history of using threats of violence in the settlements that they control to prevent political activity independent of the ANC. One of these leaders has, in her own settlement, openly denied access to temporary housing provided after a fire to people who cannot produce ANC cards.

But there are two ways in which the coup and then the purge that followed it have been exceptional. The first is that, after many years of self-organisation, local activists have developed excellent networks outside of the settlement and so recent events have received considerable national and international attention. The silence that usually accompanies this sort of attack on independent grassroots politics has been decisively broken.

The second is that in the past the ANC has not acknowledged the local level despotisms on which it relies. When pushed, as in the case of an unrelated series of assassinations that followed an attempt to run an independent candidate against the ANC in Umlazi in the 2006 local government elections, it has dismissed that violence as criminal rather than political. But in this case there has been enthusiastic support for both the coup and the consequent and ongoing political purge in the settlement from senior ANC leaders in the eThekwini Municipality and the province. This is a clear attempt to normalise a long-standing reality of our democracy that has previously been repressed from open public discussion.

The open support for the attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo has often taken the form of declaring the movement, directly or by implication, to be ‘criminal’. The word ‘criminal’ risks becoming as dangerous in our society as the word ‘communist’ was in the hands of apartheid or the word ‘terrorist’ is in the hands of the American state. When the enthusiasm with which some people in the ANC have sought to criminalise popular politics outside of its control is linked, as it should be, to recent calls by ANC leaders for a ‘people’s war against crime’, a right for the police to ‘shoot to kill’ and the centralisation of intelligence and policing, not to mention the outright militarisation of the latter, it is clear that we have just cause for grave concern about the future of democracy in South Africa.