The Two Faces of the Western Cape Education, one white and one black

Former Model C schools receive special treatment from the Western Cape Education Department which turns a blind eye to their indiscretions, writes MUAATH GABIER

This is not a fairy tale, rather it is a horror story that currently has no end.  It is the story of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) and the double standards within. The double standards that are systemic include among other concerns, the treatment of misconduct at “flagship” schools versus regular schools.

For the purposes of this opinion, a flagship school is a former Model C school, specifically in the leafy southern suburbs of Cape Town, now referred to as Section 21 Schools, while a regular school is not.

We have a provincial education department, under Premier Helen Zille & MEC Debbie Schafer that places priorities on protecting principals of the flagships, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, whilst having no issue in taking punitive action against the principals of regular schools, even though evidence does not exist.

In the Western Cape, we have an education department that:

  • prioritises protecting the dignity of principals who have stepped on the dignity of students,
  • prioritises E-Learning over school safety,
  • prioritises exclusivity over diversity,
  • prioritises protecting principals in award-winning schools and literally throwing other principals under the bus at regular schools.

When the issue of racism was raised at an all-girls high school in Cape Town’s southern suburbs in 2016, that issue had been ongoing for more than 10 years, and several past pupils can attest to that. The issue was only investigated by the department after an overwhelming public outcry initiated by students that were vilified and humiliated by that principal. This principal was allowed to take early retirement with her dignity and pension intact, after having spent many years stepping on the dignity of students under her care. She was first defended by the department, before being offered the graceful exit.

The other side is the principal of a high school in District Six in Cape Town, who was accused of wrongdoing, but the School Governing Body of the school admitted to the transgression. The department did not defend him, or pay his legal fees, but allowed for him to be humiliated in the media and in the court of public opinion. This principal was acquitted on 25 July 2017 due to lack of evidence and the charges dismissed.

This is the provincial education department whose staff are allegedly complicit in financial maladministration with the principal of The Grove Primary school in Cape Town but had placed the principal of Golden Grove Primary School on administrative leave since early in the previous school term.

The department sent staff to investigate the Golden Grove Primary School matter for close to a month, while the officials have provided misleading information to parents at The Grove in order to obstruct any investigation whilst attempting to sweep the matter under the proverbial rug.

This is a department that does not provide financial oversight with respect to public money, in this case related to a private property purchase by a boys preparatory school in Rondebosch, in Cape Town, the seller of that property being directly linked to the School Governing Body of that school (its former chairperson), and has a clear conflict of interest. The seller not only benefitted from the sale, but the school has subsequently spent over thousands in repairing undeclared latent defects on the property. The seller is closely linked to the Premier’s office as the property advisor.

This is the same department that is always complaining about not having enough funds to provide safety and security at schools, and spends approximately R36 million a year on this important item across the province, but is able to budget approximately R250 million a year on E-Learning. This is a department that is quite willing to place students into already overcrowded regular schools but is unwilling to maximise classroom space in the flagship schools.

The department turns a blind eye when flagship schools effectively pay employees of the state a second salary using Section 38A, which is against current legislation, instead of fulfilling the oversight and monitoring function which is their responsibility. Principals are allowed to enrich themselves, to surround themselves with cronies while victimising staff and teachers who dare to speak out. Careers have been stalled, working conditions made unbearable, unqualified teachers been promoted over qualified ones, and all of these actions are quietly endorsed by the department.  As long as it happens in a flagship or award-winning school.

This department preaches the virtue of diversity and inclusivity, but the principal of Rustenburg Girls Junior School has no shame in stating the opposite as the official position.  Under the current DA administration, the section 21 schools have regressed in terms of diversity.  Fee-paying schools are consistently raising fees to become unaffordable, and this is being used as a tool to exclude poor Coloured and African students.

Principals are the final stop for all applications, and it is clear that this is done with the intention to maintain the student body composition in favour of a privileged few and majority white. It is no accident that this is happening, this conduct does not emerge, it is driven from the top down.

Officials can ignore, mislead, make false statements, and allow maladministration and poor governance to protect the interests of the few, over the interests of the many. Can we really be surprised by this, when the Premier in her own words referred to some students as “education refugees”?

What is required if a full investigation by an independent statutory bodies with powers to investigate in these schools in respect of corporate governance and more importantly transformation at these schools, 23 years after democracy.

Gabier is a Member of the Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF) in Western Cape

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