Uitzig High School will open - but the victory is Tony Ehrenreich's, not the learners

18 January 2019

Statement by Minister Debbie Schäfer, Minister of Education

On Wednesday, the High Court ruled in favour of the former SGB at Uitzig Secondary School, finding that the rules of court pertaining to appeals dictates this to be the case. While I am seeking legal advice on the court's latest ruling, some politically aligned media have already claimed this to be a victory for the learners. They are in fact very wrong on this. This is only a victory for Tony Ehrenreich who has used the learners and the parents as pawns in his attempts to try to remain relevant. The Western Cape High Court has already ruled that my decision to close the school in 2017 was valid and in the best interests of the learners. Indeed, that same court dismissed the application for leave to appeal on the basis that there is no prospect of another court coming to a different decision. This forced Mr Ehrenreich and the applicants to then petition the SCA for leave to appeal. That is still pending. It is only until that petition, which I fully intend to oppose- is determined- that this order now applies.

In 2017, I decided to close the school due to decreasing learner numbers, the total state of disrepair which the main building is in and relentless vandalism and theft at the school. In addition, learner performance at the school is very low, with the school only achieving a 15.4% pass rate in 2018.

With fewer than 100 learners, the school only qualifies for 3 teaching posts.

The school will now open because of the court's ruling, and 3 teachers will now need to teach 91 learners in 5 different grades, 8 different subjects.

I have been asked why we have not repaired the old school building. Given the low attendance figures, the lack of appreciable growth potential and the severe state of disrepair which the main building is in, the fact that even security guards paid by the WCED have been too scared to go to the school, our teachers are scared, and there are two other schools within a kilometre of this school which can accommodate learners, it would be an irrational and irresponsible decision to expend even more finances, which are severely constrained and under constant pressure, to initiate the building of a completely new replacement school at a current cost of around R60 million to accommodate 91 learners, when they can be accommodated at other better nearby schools.

When I made the decision to close the school, I first ensured that all the learners could be accommodated at alternative schools. The WCED arranged for these learners to be placed at other schools, of which Ravensmead HS was the Department's preferred choice, and is only just under 1km away.

Another factor that I took into consideration was the issue of gang violence, as I know that there is a prevalence of gang violence in that area. Research revealed that there are more learners from Uitzig in Ravensmead currently than in Uitzig school itself.

I was also assured by officials that a number of learners have moved to other schools and have not experienced any additional gang related issues or danger in this regard. Given the state of Uitzig High School, I believe it would, in fact, be more dangerous for them to stay there. The fact is that there have been many learners over the past 4 years who have moved to Ravensmead HS from Uitzig HS out of choice. These learners have integrated well and there have been no reported incidents regarding their safety while walking to and from their new school.

Ravensmead also achieved a 94% matric pass rate. Educators and learners at Ravensmead HS teach and learn in a safer school environment, with better infrastructure and extra-mural activities and facilities. It remains a beacon of hope and is literally around the corner from Uitzig.

The appalling matric pass rate of 15.4% and the factors mentioned above show that it is in nobody's interest for learners to remain at this school.

Whilst I am quite sure that some persons and some politically aligned media may well still choose to make various statements of outrage regarding my decision to close the school, and claim victory for the learners, I stand by my decision and I am confident that it was the right one, and in the best interest of the learners.