Children at school where Mandela matriculated say they are left to go hungry on some days
Almost six months after the Eastern Cape education department had to urgently close down the Reshwa Secondary School in Peddie due to dwindling numbers, pupils and parents claim they have been abandoned.
Khula Children's Rights Organisation's Petros Majola said they have received calls from a number of parents and learners who claim there are days the pupils go without food.
“They go to class with empty stomachs. Some learners decided to drop out of school and go back home as they exhausted all avenues but still no joy,” said Majola.
The pupils were transferred at the beginning of the year to the Healdtown Comprehensive School outside Fort Beaufort, after only 17 pupils returned for the new school year.
Now the handful of pupils, who live at the school's hostel, say they face an uphill battle, far from their families.
Incidentally, this is the school where the late former president Nelson Mandela matriculated in 1938.
Eastern Cape premier, Phumulo Masualle in 2018 announced plans to close over 2,000 small schools in the province.
But a member of the school governing body of Reshwa Secondary School claimed there were no final discussions held with them to close the school.
“We held meetings with the department as early as July last year. They promised that the closure of the school was a temporary measure and come 2019 our children will study at a school closer to their homes,” she charged.
She said some parents had already opted last year to move their grade 12 pupils to nearby schools, instead of sending them almost 160km to Healdtown.
Department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima has, however, said the process was followed and there were meetings with the school's governing body and parents.
He further added that while the department was waiting for a permanent service provider to be appointed to provide meals to the pupils, they were using the same supplier that caters at Fort Beaufort Primary.
Mtima said the department took a decision to close the school after only 17 learners returned at the beginning of the year.
“There were low learner numbers with only three teachers from Grade 8 – 12,” said Mtima.
He said there was no provision of scholar transport to the nearest school and the only option was to accommodate them in the hostel at Healdtown.
In January this year, the head of the Eastern Cape education department defended the rationalisation of schools that had too few pupils, which are closed and merged with more viable ones.
Department superintendent-general Themba Kojana said at the time the department did not simply shut down schools, arguing that the closures followed consultation and planning.
Equal Education's (EE) Tshepo Motsepe said the organisation and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) supported the school rationalisation process but said pupils' right to education must be protected above all.
Motsepe said there are 5,433 schools in the Eastern Cape.
He further posited that rationalisation creates fewer, but larger schools and this allows the department to achieve more with the budget they have.
Motsepe added that rationalisation should happen fairly.
The South African Schools Act requires the provincial MEC to inform a school governing body of the intention to close their school, allow the SGB to respond, hold a public hearing for the community to make representations regarding the closure, and give consideration to the representations.
“SGBs and communities must be properly informed and genuinely engaged on the matter, bearing in mind that they may raise compelling reasons why the closure of their school should not happen. There is also a need to be sensitive to their attachment to the school and its relationship to the community,” said Motsepe.