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Taxi violence, racial tensions and confusion: how back-to-school went across SA

26 July 2021 - 19:53 By prega govender
School children wearing masks get their hands sanitised and temperatures checked as they arrive at Mayibuye Primary School, Snake Park in Soweto on July 26 2021.
School children wearing masks get their hands sanitised and temperatures checked as they arrive at Mayibuye Primary School, Snake Park in Soweto on July 26 2021.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

Taxi violence and disruptions to public transport resulted in a lower than usual pupil attendance at some schools in the Western Cape on the first day of the new term on Monday.

The provincial education department’s spokesperson, Bronagh Hammond, confirmed that “commuter schools” which have a high enrolment of pupils from areas on the outskirts of the city were affected by the disruptions.

Schools in the City Bowl and surrounding area were mostly affected.

“One taxi association that transports learners privately also didn’t operate today due to threats of violence which affected attendance.”

Hammond said they were also deeply saddened by the report of a death of a security guard who was allegedly attacked at a metro central school after confronting alleged vandals on Sunday night.

“The matter has been reported to SAPS and an investigation is under way.”

She said that they had received a number of reports of schools that were burgled or vandalised over the holidays and that further information will be released later this week.

Meanwhile, most pupils at two schools in Giyani, Limpopo, did not return to class because of the seeming confusion over the opening date.

This is according to Ben Machipi, general secretary of the Professional Educators’ Union (PEU), who said that the confusion may have arisen after recent announcements that all primary school pupils will return on August 2.

“When some schools closed in June, it was abrupt. I don’t think schools had an opportunity to give a directive [on the reopening].”

Limpopo education department spokesperson, Tidimalo Chuene, said they were monitoring schools today and that feedback will only be available on Tuesday.

Commenting on the readiness for the return of all primary school pupils on August 2, she said that they will issue a statement once they had concluded all internal reporting processes on readiness for the full return of primary school pupils.

Chuene said that education MEC, Polly Boshielo and senior management officials will be monitoring schools this week “to assess the settling in of learners and assist in areas where there might be challenges”.

“We have a mammoth task in terms of catching up on lost time, and at the same time navigating through challenges presented by Covid-19,” Boshielo said.

KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Kwazi Mshengu, who visited several schools in strife-torn Phoenix, north of Durban, on Monday, said schooling had got off to a smooth start in the province.

Tensions are still running high in Phoenix after the recent violent unrest which claimed the lives of 251 people in the province.

Racial tensions between the predominantly Indian population of Phoenix and neighbouring settlements of Bhambayi, Zwelisha and Amaoti were sparked after the many  deaths in the area as a result of residents taking up arms and blockading off areas.

“We have ensured that needs were satisfied and that the schools had the necessary equipment and tools they required to operate effectively. Our teams will continue to monitor schools in all 12 districts,” Mshengu said.

North West education department spokesperson Elias Malindi said classes resumed successfully “with no challenges encountered”.

“Both learners and teachers are back at school continuing with the curriculum as planned in full adherence to Covid-19 safety protocols.”

He said the department was ready to receive all primary school pupils  daily from August 2.

Eastern Cape education department spokesperson Mali Mtima said they made all the necessary arrangements “to ensure learners return to a suitable environment for teaching and learning”.

He said challenges identified included vacancies becoming available after the deaths, resignations and dismissals of some teachers.

“We have to recruit new ones and we are working with districts to monitor the recruitment of those educators so that every learner has an educator in front of him or her.”