shack.jpg Abahlali Demonstration  Children in parts of South Africa are being excluded from school because their parents can't afford to pay school fees Below is an article from the Abahlali website - the movement campaigning for the rights of shack dwellers about a typical situation at a school called Motala Heights. The website address is Unlawful Attacks on Education Rights in Motala Heights Today people are celebrating the matric results across the country. Here in Motala Heights, as in many poor communities around the country, we are planning our resistance to the illegal exclusion of poor children from our country's schools. Every year the first campaign on the Abahlali baseMjondolo calendar is the struggle to keep our children in school and to have them respected in school. Here in Motala Heights the situation is really bad at the Motala Heights School. The school is blatantly acting against the law and blatantly discriminating against the poor kids and actively denying them their right to education. Sometimes people fill out the fee exemption forms and they are just ignored. Sometimes the school secretary just refuses to give parents the fee exemption forms and shouts at them and ill treats them when they request the forms. This secretary acts like the school belongs to her. If you haven't got money you are nothing to her. She is like a big closed door to the poor people. Last year the school refused to release the reports of the kids whose parents couldn't pay the fees. This is illegal. They also said that they will put the debt owed to the Motala Heights School, which ends in grade 9, on the transfer cards that kids need go on to other High Schools. The secretary actually told one parent that this is “to make the parent and child have a bad reputation in the new school.” When the new year comes people are told to re-register their children and the secretary tells the poor parents that they can't register their children because they owe money. A deposit of R500 is charged to re-register each child. The secretary blocks the poor parents from access to the headmaster. The principal even says that people who are getting the Child Support Grant, which is supposed to be for food for their children, must give the grant to the school. What does he think these children will eat? Does he think that a child can study with the pain and weakness of hunger? Letters have been sent to parents that owe money for school fees. These parents have been handed over to Protea Credit Control and this company is threatening to take them to court and to seize their few possessions against their debt. After interventions from our movement, with support from Dr. Ivor Baatjies, the school agreed to release the reports. With a lot of effort we can win these struggles each year, just as we can win struggles against evictions, but we should not have to struggle to defend our basic rights that are guaranteed to us in law. We do not pay school fees because we have no money. Some children are going to school with nothing in the stomach. Sometimes the only income in the family comes from a father who is pushing the trolleys for the richer people at the shops. The women who are washing for richer people are earning R20 a day. The women who are working in factories are earning R250 a week. This is not even enough to pay for water and electricity. We are so much in struggle just to survive that we cannot pay school fees. Kids from very poor homes are dropping out of school because they are being insulted because their parents can't pay their fees. They are called out and embarrassed in assembly. They are made to stand on chairs in class. Some kids are coming from abusive homes. School should be a sanctuary for these children but they are being screamed at in school because their parents are poor. They are ill treated at home and in school. Often this bad treatment pushes our kids out of school. When our children are forced out of school they start to be with the wrong people and to do wrong things. They see no future for themselves and they become angry. They get mixed up in drugs and crime. They fall pregnant. Our kids also count. All kids deserve to see a future. Most of the poor kids that survive the Motala Heights School go on to Wyebank Secondary School. At this school the process around fee exemptions is handled fairly. The problem with this school is the transport. The bus often comes late and the driver is reckless. When the bus comes late our children are locked out of the school for being late although it is not their fault. This is victimization of our children. There is also discrimination against our children from some of the Wyebank residents. In 2009 they even stoned the bus bringing children from Motala Heights to Wyebank. There are serious problems at the Nilgerie Secondary School in Marianhill. Kids are bringing weapons to school, even axes. Something needs to be done about this and very urgently. The Motala Heights School needs to be extended all the way to matric. When we asked for this in the past we were told that there was no space to extend the school. In fact there is lots of space. It is owned by Mr. Walker and it is called Tanglewood Farm. A small section of this land needs to be expropriated so that the school can be extended. The interests of one land owner cannot come before the interests of a whole community. This is obvious. We do what we can to look after the children in our community. This year, with the support of the Pinetown Minister's Fellowship, we organised a wonderful Christmas Party for all the kids of Motala Heights with a Mother Christmas and a toy for every child (educational and fun toys - no toy guns or knives or soldiers). The money that was left over from the party will go to buying school stationery for the poorest kids. But we need a lot more support. There should be a full time social worker for this community. Our demands are: 1. All intimidation of poor children and their parents by the Motala Heights School must stop immediately. 2. All attempts to deny parents access to fee exemption forms, or to unfairly deny applications for fee exemption without any discussion or recourse, must stop. 3. When our children go back to school on 19 January 2011 no child should be excluded because their parents are poor. 4. A small section of Tanglewood Farm needs to be expropriated so that the Motala Heights School can be extended. 5. A full time social worker needs to be appointed for this community to look out for the kids and the old people here. Every parent has a right to know what is going on at their kid's school, to have their kids treated fairly and to participate equally in the governing of the school. These rights are not just rights for the rich parents. They are rights for all parents. If these rights are not respected by the Motala Heights School we will take them to court and we will march on the school. Mr. Shezi in the Education Department has always been very helpful to us. But it is very difficult for poor people to access the Department. Telephone calls and taxi fares are paid in money and we don't have money. Dr. Baatjies has contacted the Education Department for us and they have promised to look into things at this school and to report back to us. As a movement we want to extend our deep thanks to Dr. Ivor Baatjies, who formerly worked with the Education Rights Project and the Paulo Freire Institute is now at the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg, for his years of support for our struggle for equal education rights for all children in Motala Heights. Dr. Baatjies has informed us that CERT will be monitoring the Motala Heights School closely this year, especially when it comes to admitting children at the beginning of the new term. Dr. Baatjies is available to explain the law around education rights in South Africa and why the actions of the Motala Heights School are in gross violation of the law and basic education rights. He can be contacted on 0832346700.