Two days later, on Sunday 23 February, a meeting was held between the senior members of the Western Cape SA Police Service (SAPS), officials of the WCED, teachers representing the Manenberg Teachers’ Steering Committee, and the legal representatives of the teachers and the schools, the EELC.
At the meeting, senior members of the SAPS presented an emergency ‘school safety plan’ for all Manenberg Schools, with particular attention to the five most affected: Edendale Primary, Red River Primary, Sonderend Road Primary, Rio Grande Primary and Silverstream High. The plan, which takes immediate effect, includes the deployment of additional stationary police vehicles to schools and increased police patrols of the area. Police will be outside the schools until 9am and between 1 and 3pm, and will patrol on an increased basis.
The EELC welcomes this positive outcome, which promises to provide some relief to the students and teachers of Manenberg.
As explained below various concerns about the future remain.
BACKGROUND ON THE COURT APPLICATION
On Friday, 21 February, the Steering Committee and five individual teachers, represented by the EELC, filed an urgent application in the Western Cape High Court after a resurgence of gang violence in Manenberg. The application was brought following the failure of the WCED to respond to a letter of demand which requested an immediate commitment to provide adequate security measures for schools so as to ameliorate the dangerous working conditions of teachers and the serious risks to learners’ safety.
Judge Elizabeth Baartman granted an interim order compelling the MEC and HOD of the WCED to deploy armed, properly equipped, visible security personnel at the five schools. The parties return to court on 3 March 2014. Thereafter – unless the WCED can convince the court otherwise – it will be restrained from docking salaries of teachers who miss school due to gang violence, and will need to institute a catch-up plan for learners.
CONCERNS ABOUT APPROACH OF WCED TO THIS ISSUE, AND THE LACK OF A LONG-TERM PLAN
The EELC is concerned by the lack of a broader plan to address the safety of learners over the long term, and by the insistence by the WCED that it is not the party primarily responsible for protecting learners within school premises. Violence, particularly gang violence, poses an enormous challenge to teachers and government officials trying to provide a quality education. Certainly the WCED cannot alone address the gang violence in Manenberg, and would need the help of other government entities to protect the schools, but in the view of the EELC, and as suggested by the High Court judgment, the WCED should take a leading role in prioritising and convening an effort to do so. The WCED also has a responsibility to ensure the provision of adequate school infrastructure, including basics for security like adequate fencing.
Teachers from Manenberg have described feeling as though their and the children's lives mean very little to those responsible for ensuring their safety. One teacher from Manenberg Primary, explains: "I don’t feel as if those who have the power and responsibility to help us in this dangerous situation think anything of the learners and teachers at Manenberg. If they truly thought anything of us, if they really considered us and felt that we counted, they would have put much better security measures in place by now."
A newly-qualified teacher from Rio Grande Primary explained how in the first week of his teaching career a bullet whizzed past his head whilst he was assisting some of the learners with athletics training. Despite this the teacher remains adamant that he will continue to teach in Manenberg as this is where he can make a difference. (The teachers’ names are omitted deliberately.)
Sherylle Dass, EELC attorney representing the teachers and steering committee said: “The interim order compels the HOD to consider temporarily closings affected schools if adequate security measures are not adopted by the end of business on Monday 24 February. However, the teachers have stressed that this should be a worst case scenario. It is their primary concern that teaching and learning resume immediately and to continue under safe and secure conditions free from violence and fear. That was the aim of seeking the court interdict.”
School safety concerns certainly extend beyond Manenberg. The Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into the Police, which was instigated by five organisations including Equal Education, has heard similar problems in Khayelitsha. In Sunday’s meeting SAPS advised that it had previously made written recommendations to the WCED that it provide additional measures such as private security, adequate security infrastructure and CCTV systems to 167 schools in the Western Cape which have been identified as ‘high risk schools’.
It is hoped that the interim court order and subsequent plan for Manenberg school safety, currently lead by the SAPS, will provide much needed temporary relief to these schools. However, it is essential that an adequate and comprehensive long term and sustainable safety plan is put in place and implemented.
If you want to know more on this topic call or e-mail Sherylle Dass, Senior Attorney at Equal Education Law Centre: Sherylle@eelawcentre.org.za 076 223 3674 / 021 461 1421.