by Nomalanga Mkhize

The silence of parents from ‘black’ townships over education in South Africa is striking.

Last week I was at the Grahamstown High Court talking to parents, teachers, pastors and school governing body members from schools in the Bethelsdorp, a formerly ‘coloured-only’ neighbour in Port Elizabeth. They were protesting teacher shortages in their schools.

There were about 30 of them who had taken time off work and travelled all the way to Grahamstown to make their ire known to Minister Motshekga and her department.

Inside the High Court, their lawyers were meeting Minister Motshekga’s legal team which was busy defending itself, once again, from court action compelling them to do their job properly. (These lawyers also represented us in the case we brought to compel Minister Motshekga to make sec. 100 intervention in the Eastern Cape work. She said it was working and our case was ‘ill-conceived’. The case was settled. For our part, we were pleased the Minister re-affirmed that she was in charge of Eastern Cape education. We know exactly where the buck stops now.)

The parents told me that in addition to teacher shortages, the temporary teachers they had in school employ were not being paid by the Department. The SGB was expected to pay for them!

In other words, not only was the department not providing the requisite number of staff according to the schools needs, but it was making the school pay for those they had managed to prevent from leaving. Teachers had lost their cars, were barely making ends meet because of the department had not paid them.

What struck me about the protest, and what has struck me in similar protests by citizens from formerly ‘coloured-only’ areas, is that that parents, pastors and community leaders led the protest – not the teachers and principals. (The group by no means only coloured, there were parents of all different backgrounds and languages, indeed, many ‘coloured’ schools are composed of at least 50% ‘black’ learners.)

In contrast, every protest that I have attended for schools in ‘black townships’, it is the teachers union SADTU leading, and the parents following behind.

In fact, if SADTU did not organise these protests against teacher shortages or whatever other grievance, onen wonders if parents in Black townships would ever make a collective showing on these critical issues.

Well, of course there have been cases where black parents organise and lead themselves to make their dissatisfaction on education matters heard . But this is very rare. (I refer specifically to the Eastern Cape here).

What is happening here? Parents in ‘coloured’ areas feel they can speak for themselves. Parents in ‘black’ areas do not.

I have spoken on various platforms about the class and power relations within black townships.

Parents in black townships tend to find themselves caught up in contradictory social and political relationships which cause them to be silent on education matters.

They may see themselves as being too poor to contest a school principal or teacher who is protected by a powerful union, specifically SADTU.

They may fear being seen to be a contrary voice in the community against people with strong political connections and ties, as many union heads have.

They may find themselves being ignored by education officials who are protected by the same union that protects teachers.

They may find themselves dealing with an SGB chair who is also a powerful political figure in the community, and by extension, powerfully connected to other elites such as teachers and principals.

In the ‘coloured’ townships however, power tends to be dispersed fairly evenly between different political parties and different teachers unions.

Churches in ex-‘coloured areas’ still occupy a powerful space in the politics of the community. Pastors are regularly involved in service delivery and socio-economic issues.

Clerical activism has become a thing of the past in black townships.

Should I say it? Yes, I think I will.

The political ‘in-betweenness’ of the coloured community since the end of apartheid is its most powerful advantage even though the discourse from disenchanted coloured citizens is that they are falling through the gap (the reality is, *all* working-class communities are falling through the gap; for every coloured community without services, we can find many ‘black’ ones without. That powerful coloured figures have been invisible in mainstream politics since the decline of the Mass Democratic Movement is however, a disquieting reality).

The ‘coloured’ community can make or break local governement and provincial elections in certain parts of the country, the DA and ANC know this well. There is a kind of power in
being part of ‘swing-vote’ community. Powerful unions cannot simply intimidate parents; principals still need buy-in from parents; pastors are still respected moral authorities entrusted to speak for citizens on community issues.

But black parents are not excused. Yes the unions, teachers, and other comrades in the community are powerful, but we are not excused.

End of Part 1


Mother Tongue Teaching in EC

In an effort to improve the standard of education, the Eastern Cape is the first province
in the country to move towards implementing mother tongue-based teaching, learning
and assessment in the foundation phases.

Already 74 primary schools in the Cofimvaba district have adopted the model, which is envisaged to be rolled out in the other 22 education districts in the province.

This week language experts, subject advisers, education officials, members of parliament and officials from the office of premier Noxolo Kiviet met for a two-day workshop at the Stirling Education Leadership Institute in East London to craft a standardized dictionary to be used for maths, science and technology at schools.

Xhosa textbooks, other than the normal English-worded material, will be provided to pupils. Children in the foundation phases (Grades 1 to 3) in the district are also to write their Annual National Assessment (ANA) exams this year in Xhosa.

Last year, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga released the country’s ANA results for foundation and intermediate phases (Grades 4 to 6) in the country.

Literacy and numeracy tests were conducted at a total of 164 schools in the Eastern Cape – and the results proved poor.

Grade 3 pupils scored 39% in literacy and 40% in maths, while Grade 6 pupils scored lower, managing only 29% in both subjects. Eastern Cape education department language policy manager Naledi Mbudeshale, who is driving the project, said the move by the district would improve the ANA results.

“I know that there are some fears that children will not know English and that these children will not have a bright future and there will not be a space for them at higher institutions of learning but these are untrue and unfounded,”
said Mbudeshale.

“These children are going to be taught English, but they will learn other subjects in their mothertongue. English will be just a resource subject.”

Mbudeshale said the Cofimvaba district had offered to teach the children in Xhosa because children were battling to understand their subjects in English. The bilingual approach would still be implemented, but Xhosa would be used as the first language instead of English.

She plans to present a report on the matter to education MEC Mandla Makupula and acting superintendent-general Mthunywa Ngonzo. It would then be handed to the Bhisho legislature.

Mbudeshale said publishers would be consulted to write books
based on standardised concepts. The department’s deputy director-
general of institutional operations management, Sithembele Zibi said the move would improve the standard of education. “It’s time to reclaim our status. In the past we were ahead compared to other provinces. We used to offer education to children coming from other provinces. Now we are behind,” said Zibi. “We have a challenge of shortages of teachers and those who are skilled in these subjects. Maybe this is the way to go and will ultimately lead to the improvement of matric results.”

The project comes as the ANC in the Eastern Cape attempts to push for children to be taught in their mother tongue and vernacular languages across the country.

The province has already had its policy proposal to have Xhosa speaking children in the Eastern Cape taught in their mother tongue accepted at the party’s national policy conference last month.

ANC provincial spokesman Mlibo Qoboshiyane confirmed that there were
plans to discuss the implementation of mother tongue education to the
other provinces at the party’s elective conference in Mangaung in

Qoboshiyane said about 90% of the subjects were currently taught in
English and children whose first language is not English were battling
to understand lessons.

He said the proposal had received a lot of support from academics and
researchers from universities in the province. “What we were
advocating [at the recent conference] was the establishment of an
African Language Institute.

“This was accepted by the plenary of the policy conference so we can
have more educators of language[s] we are talking about.

“We said these steps must be taken to ensure that the second phase of
our transition respects our mother tongue. There was a total
acceptance of our proposal” said Qoboshiyane.

The following report first appeared in the Saturday Dispatch (14/07/2012), written by its education reporter – Msindisi Fengu.