On Tuesday morning, angry learners at the troubled Atwell Madala High School in Mthatha burnt down ten prefab classrooms that had desks, textbooks and other school materials in them.
This is part of a growing revolt among learners against the state of our education institutions in the Eastern Cape, coming from their desperation to get an education in a country that is facing an unemployment crisis. We are seeing protests in Zwelitsha, Mthatha, King Williams Town, Nelson Mandela Bay and elsewhere.
While I sympathise with the frustrations of the learners, the destruction of institutions of learning can never be the answer.
These learners were protesting over the empty promises of the failing ANC government, that have been promising them a new school since 2005. Yet, despite repeated engagement with the Department of Education, the new building has failed to materialise.
The problem is believed to have been further exacerbated by the merger with secondary schools James Kobi, EW Pears, Norwood and St Josephs in 2015, with up to 90 learners crammed into a class.
R81-million set aside to build a new school in 2018, was allegedly diverted to fixing schools hit by storms, and new prefab classrooms meant to assist with overcrowding were never delivered.
The DA understands that a delegation from the education department’s Mthatha district office met with parents, teachers and pupils last week, following protests, but that it was later agreed that a delegation from the provincial office would visit the school. This meeting was subsequently postponed and has now been cancelled.
The DA cannot condone violence and the destruction of school property, as this steals the opportunity of education from all learners, not just those who are aggrieved.
We are calling on the police to ensure that those who are responsible for the arson must be arrested and feel the full might of the law. There must be consequences for their actions.
At the same time, the Department of Education must also be held accountable.
I will be submitting questions to Education MEC Fundile Gade, requesting a detailed report from the Department of Education on what processes were followed with regards to upgrading Atwell Madala High School, as well as the processes followed in the merging the schools in 2015.
The Democratic Alliance believes that education is the keystone on which a better South Africa for all can be built. As a community, we need to ensure that the current institutions are maintained and improved upon, not destroyed, so that the future generations of South Africans can develop the knowledge that will empower them to build a better tomorrow.