A five hour-long stand-off between a school principal and a Member of Parliament took place at a public school in Cape Town, this week. The incident occurred at Strandfontein Primary School shortly after 08:00 on Wednesday as the school’s learners took off for their sports day activities.
EFF MP, Nazier Paulsen occupied the principal, Abubaker De Wet’s office and refused to leave until two learners were enrolled. The parents of Michelle Lombaard (13) and Diego Reed (9) from Camp Road informal settlement in Strandfontein tried for two years to have the children enrolled at the school, despite having all necessary documents. They (parents) reached out to Paulsen for assistance, after two years of rejection.
“We arrived at the school on the day and requested to see the principal. We were told that he was at the sports field with other learners.
“We were then assisted by the deputy principal, Mrs. Felix who listened to the issue of the parents. She said the two children could be accommodated and that they could start school immediately.
“When the principal arrived I requested to see him and he invited the parents and myself into his office. He then reversed Mrs. Felix’s decision to enroll the children and said that he ‘must’ first speak with his circuit management,” explains Paulsen.
In the presence of Deen Times and other media, De Wet refused to have the children enrolled immediately and asked the parents to come back, only once an appointment has been made with his secretary. De Wet also claimed that there was no space for them (children) and that many other children are also on a ‘waiting list’. However, Paulsen would not allow the parents to leave De Wet’s office.
“Why must they make an appointment with him (De Wet) and come back? They have been walking from their home, that is located in an informal settlement, by foot, for two years, only to be rejected every time they show up at this school.
“Children who are able to pay school fees walked into this school premises and were accepted immediately. We should not reject children because of their poor background.”
“We did not leave until we had an undertaking that these learners will be enrolled. We occupied his (principals) office until he placed these children in a classroom.”
De Wet was forced to call the local police, after a long battle of trying to get Paulsen out of his office. However, the police could not immediately remove Paulsen and the parents, who both said that they would not leave, and would rather be arrested for the sake of getting the children an education.
Paulsen who stood firm for another hour, in the presence of the police, said he would eventually leave and give the principal until the next morning to sort the issue. An emergency meeting was held between the De Wet and the school’s governing body, later that day.
When Deen Times visited then school the next day, the two children were being placed in their respective classes. De Wet refused to comment and said the media could get further details from the parents of the learners.
“It’s expensive to be poor. You must fight for everything. Access to education, dignified employment, and a place to live. This is all part of our daily struggle.
“You are frowned upon when you resort to extreme measures in your plight for these basic human rights. Despite the success of the children finally being placed in a class after missing two years of education, I can assure you that we are not done with De Wet.
“We expect an apology from the principal for the remarks he made about the children on live video. He is a disgrace to all teachers in this country and should be taken to task,” Paulsen added.
In a live video posted on Paulsen’s Facebook wall, De Wet can be heard saying, that poor children come from dysfunctional families and are disruptive. He further mentions that these learners are taken to a special school in Wynberg that deals with behavior.
Forced to defend himself during the live recording on social media, De Wet said the school have many children accommodated from Strandfontein informal settlements and make space for them (poor children) on regular bases.
When asked why there was a delay in responding to the two families and placing their children in the relevant grades, De Wet refused to comment. He could also not answer why the available space at the school was not given to the children when the school term started in January.
In the meantime, more poor families from the area have shown up at the school for their children to be placed, but they were denied entry. Paulsen said he is working towards getting the other children placed as well.
Live footage of the incident can be found on Paulsen’s Facebook wall. (Next article, a response from Western Cape Education Department). Aishah Cassiem (Deen Times)