There are many problems that schools face in Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town. Some of these problems are easy to see, while others are much more difficult. After 3 months of research, sitting in cold classrooms with teachers and learners in the middle of winter, Equal Education (EE) wanted to help fix some of the problems we were observing in schools. By using democratic means to fix the problem in one school we hoped to offer an example to all schools battling with poor physical infrastructure.
As one its first projects, members of the EE Youth Group were asked to go into their schools and take photographs of anything that they thought affected their learning at school. One EE youth group member, Zukiswa Vuka, returned with a photograph which revealed the devastating state of windows at her school, Luhlaza High School.
On further investigation we found that at Luhlaza High School there were 500 broken windows that had been broken for more than 4 years. Teachers and learners alike agreed that it was extremely difficult to concentrate in a cold classroom.
The problem of broken windows highlights the importance of having an environment conducive to learning at school. Learners at the school also explained that it was hard to be proud of their school when it looked the way it did. At this, point it became clear that EE’s first campaign had to be about broken windows. We also wanted a successful first campaign to galvanise the Khayelitsha schools community with a belief in their own ability to bring tangible changes to their schools.
EE worked closely with school management and learners to raise the issue of broken windows at Luhlaza High School. The campaign began with meetings with the school principal, teachers and leadership, consultation with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) and discussions amongst Luhlaza learner structures such as the Representative Council of Learners (RCL). EE had regular meetings with Mr Robin April, the then Acting Principal at Luhlaza, as well as members of the School Management Team. It is very important to EE that we have a good relationship with the management of the school, the parents, the community and the learners.
The RCL said they had been raising the issue of windows with the school management for years. The school management told us that they had written to the Education Department about the windows and other problems, but the response had been slow.
EE created a petition. The petition called for the windows to be repaired, but also requested that learners commit themselves to keeping them that way.
The mass petition was signed by 2000 community members, teachers, learners, caretakers and parents, and others including Robin April, Duncan Hindle (Director General of Education), Mampela Ramphele, Zackie Achmat, Judge Dennis Davis, Professor Mary Metcalfe, and Noel Robb.
During its campaign to have the windows repaired, EE engaged a number of Department of Education officials. We began by meeting the relevant Circuit Manager at the Metropole East District Office, who is responsible for Luhlaza High School. We explained the situation of windows at Luhlaza, and pledged to work with the department to get them fixed. The Circuit Manager claimed that the issue of broken windows had never been brought to his attention by the school, and referred us to an official at the WCED head office.
EE then met with the head-office official responsible for scheduled maintenance at Western Cape schools to try and find out when the windows would be repaired. He too assured EE that the issue had never been brought to his attention, and said that there were many schools with much more serious problems than broken windows. He then explained to us that scheduled maintenance was planned for the school; that this maintenance did not include the repair of broken windows; and that this maintenance would take place in September 2010 – meaning a wait of two years.
EE had received quotations to fix the windows and the best price was R17,000. The school could contribute R5,000 and EE could contribute R5,000 so we asked the Department for R7,000.
Equal Education also met with Western Cape MEC for Education Mr. Yousuf Gabru and senior officials at the WCED Head Office. At the meeting, we explained all of our previous meetings. We were most encouraged to receive the support of the MEC for the windows campaign and the work of EE generally.
At this stage, after a few months of work on this issue, it was clear that it needed greater public attention. A rally in Cape Town was organised that involved 450 Khayelitsha learners from 18 schools, as well as learners from Phillipi, Wallacedean and the City Bowl area. At the same time high school learners, who were EE members, wrote articles for the press, were interviewed on local radio, and spoke to their families and friends.
While all of these meetings were taking place, members of the EE youth group – which then had a membership of 150 Khayelitsha learners from over ten schools - began to mobilise their school-friends, explaining to them the situation at Luhlaza High School and enlisting their help. The campaign stressed the importance of schools working together to solve their problems. Although the campaign focused on Luhlaza, learners representing almost all high schools in Khayelitsha gave their active support. During youth group meetings, members discussed campaign methods and objectives, highlighting the importance of non-violence. Youth group members had fun practicing poetry and songs as a creative way of putting their message across to the WCED. Members created placards with clear messages written on them in preparation for the rally. In the lead up to the rally, learners collected more than 30 kilograms of broken glass from the play-grounds of Luhlaza. This glass was later washed and used with coloured beads to make necklaces, bracelets and other items.
Marshalls and spokespeople were selected from amongst the learners, and were trained as to their role. More radio interviews were given, newspaper articles written, and memoranda and speeches were carefully drafted. On the day before the rally the learners prepared food, received their matching EE scarves, and attended to last-minute preparations.
There was a good public response from people in Khayelitsha and in the newspapers. People appreciated responsible school children raising their concerns in a respectful and lively manner. Unfortunately the official who addressed the rally on behalf of the WCED, told the learners, who were from schools across Khayelitsha, that Luhlaza was the only school with broken windows. The learners knew this was false. The official also said the learners broke the windows, but the truth is that the windows were broken for nearly 5 years. She said the school must fix the windows from its maintenance budget. The school’s maintenance budget for the whole year is R28,000, which is not enough to fix the windows and look after the school.
EE held a follow-up meeting with WCED Metropole East. They promised the windows would be fixed. EE wrote to them requesting a timeline, but did not receive one. On November 13 EE held a public meeting at Desmond Tutu Hall in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, which was attended by over 200 members of the community. MEC Gabru and a dozen education department officials came to that meeting. They announced that the windows would be fixed and that R671,000 would be invested in the school. This was a great achievement by everyone who was a part of the campaign. It appears that the Quality Improvement, Development, Support and Upliftment Programme were tasked with dealing with the situation.
During the December / January summer holidays every broken window at Luhlaza was fixed. This is the real victory. However fixing the windows cannot cost anything close to R671,000. EE has therefore written repeatedly to the department and QIDS-UP asking for a breakdown of how the R671,000 will be spent, and asking (as was suggested by the department) that EE be involved in meetings relating to the spending of this money.