Protests by learners and parents at Umthombo Senior Secondary School in Mpophomeni, Pietermaritzburg, have entered a third week. Teaching stopped on 24 April.
Last Tuesday, learners locked up officials from the Department of Education in an office at the school. Public Order Police had to use teargas to disperse angry protesters and free the officials.
Learners, supported by their parents, want the school’s quintile ranking to be lowered from four to two.
South African schools are ranked in five categories (quintiles) according to the socio-economic status of the community. Parents say that although Umthombo is near a suburban area, most learners are from poor families.
“We are from Korea, Nguqa, Hhaza, Ebumnandini and Mafakatini. We live in RDP houses not in flashy homes,” said a grade 12 learner.
“We can’t even afford R200 school fees. There is a class that has 96 learners. If we are lucky to have textbooks, it’s only two per class. We sit in threes on desks. How can a school faced with so many challenges be ranked quintile four,” said the leaner.
Mzwakhe Zondi, a parent, said the department had promised to change the quintile to a lower level back in January 2016.
“The school is a mess. The teachers have no chairs. They have no staff-room. … Learners move desks from one class to another. Other learners are left standing. Yet the school is ranked on quintile four,” said Zondi.
School governing board member Mbali Ngubane said the board had been liaising with the department since 2016.
“All they are telling us is that there is no money. We requested that at least they change the quintile,” she said.
Provincial spokesperson for the Kwa-Zulu Natal department of education Sicelo Khuzwayo said: “We are appealing to the parents and learners to calm down. This is not a permanent situation.”
The allocated budget for 2017/2018 financial year the KwaZulu-Natal department of education was close to R 50 billion of which close to R 40 billion was allocated to public ordinary school education.
Khuzwayo said, “The department is currently faced with a challenge of funds. We made them aware of that. We will commit ourselves to solving the matter. Currently there is no money.”
Ngubane said that matrics struggled to further their education after qualifying.
“They cannot get grant funding [bursaries] because of the [school’s] quintile. Learners are very angry. They are fighting for their rights and we can’t stop them. The department must intervene,” said Ngubane.