My father called me very distressed on Tuesday morning saying that his school in which he has been a teacher for the last 18 years has been vandalised and destroyed by the students. His school in Lusikisiki, Palmerton High School, is one of the most prestigious and among a set of few functioning schools in the former homeland Transkei, now part of Eastern Cape. This school has produced a wide range of dignitaries including political stalwarts like the late O.R.Tambo. I also schooled in the Transkei not very far from the Palmerton High School and found this story to be very depressing. Most of the content below is taken from the mail he wrote me.
It is a relatively large school with an enrolment of more than 1200 learners. If one seriously looks into the events that have unfolded this year in this school, one will easily understand how messy the affairs of the Department Of Education in Eastern Cape are.
The school has now been vandalised, destroyed completely and a portion gutted down by a group of hooligans who call themselves learners. It will take weeks if not months to repair the damages. That means teaching and learning has come to a grinding halt in this institution for a large number of learners who can easily be identified as the poorest of the poorest.
If we analyse the reasons that have led to this heinous act of destroying a nearly well-functioning and reputed institution, we will come to the conclusion that the main culprits are the Department of Education, Eastern Cape and to a certain extent the teacher unions who blame each other for their acts of commissions and omissions.
At the beginning of this academic year, as per the latest post provisioning for the school, the school was in need of a further 29 teachers to fill the vacancies. The school management approached every official including the office of the S.G for the Department of education informing them of the grave situation prevailing at the school, but to no avail. Many of the classes were left unattended though most of the teachers were willing to go extra miles to help the learners. No appointments or transfers were allowed because of the policy of the department. The school even requested for getting some teachers deployed for the time being to our school from some of the neighbouring schools, who are in excess in their schools. That request was also not heeded, citing objection to this by teacher unions. To make matters worse, 11 temporary teachers' contracts were not renewed, leaving the school in a very precarious situation. Virtually without these 11 teachers, the running of the school was near impossible.
As a last resort when all avenues were exhausted, the principal convened a meeting of the parents and put the matter before them. They unanimously suggested that the school must retain the service of these temporary teachers at any cost. They had resolved to pay each one of them a sum of R2000 per month, which we all know a meagre amount, until they are re-appointed by the department. They suggested that this amount can be raised by a once-off payment of R120 per learner. Most of the parents contributed and the teachers were retained. Up to now, not a single teacher has been re-appointed.
Few days back, few learners wanted this R120 back for some reasons. They were claiming that the temporary teachers have been re-appointed already with their back pay, though the truth is just the opposite. They must have been incited by some criminal elements. All our efforts to reason them have failed. Without any provocation, yesterday at around 10 in the morning few learners assembled at a spot in the school campus and started moving towards school attacking everything they saw in front of them either by pelting stones or throwing chairs. They didn't even spare teachers' cars. The police did come, but only after the destruction has been completed. It is vandalism at the very best destroying the entire school and school properties including very expensive riso-graphs, photocopiers, computers, furniture to name just a few. The entire premise looks like a war zone. The destruction of a once prestigious institution is almost complete. All for a paltry sum of R120 for a learner!
Who is to be blamed or what is to be blamed for this situation? Is it the mindset, where vandalism and destruction have been deeply embedded in the psyche or the sheer inability of responsible people to tackle issues head on? Where does one get an answer from?
We all know very well that O.R. Tambo’s vision of true freedom and empowerment cannot happen without a massive transformation in the education of rural South Africans. Our government is not doing nearly enough. The billions invested in to SANRAL toll collection, actually just a portion of it, would have been better off spent on paying the temporary teachers who have been filling vacancies without pay for months. Till our leaders put forward "education" as the number one priority for our country, we are in for a tough ride.