Matric students are threatened at rank and almost 500,000 are prevented from attending classrooms in the Western Cape due to the taxi strike

Commuters at Borchards Quarry, Nyanga on 3 August, 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

While waiting for a taxi, a matric student is told, “We told you to stay home. Go back home and sleep!”, Nwabisa Amahle Vanyaza, 18, is one of the 456,020 students who were unable to come to school on Monday as a result of the violent taxi strike that is still going on in the Western Cape. Additionally, 17,449 employees were unable to arrive at work. According to Equal Education, a swift solution is necessary in order “for both parties to find common ground.”

Vanyaza, a grade 12 student at Livingstone High School in Claremont, is one of the hopeful commuters who made their way to the Samora Machel taxi queue on Monday morning.

Stone throwers who yelled, chased away Vanyaza, shouting, “We told you to stay home. Go back home and sleep!”

Agitated at missing out on important schoolwork, Vanyaza is afraid that she would not be able to keep up with the syllabus when tested in the upcoming preliminary exams in September.

“According to my school, you cannot be absent this much especially when you are close to your assessments and exams. I’m supposed to start writing on the 4th of September. How am I supposed to finish the syllabus when I’m already five days absent?”, said Vanyaza.

One place where taxi strike-related violence is at its height is Samora Machel in Mitchells Plain, where a City of Cape Town vehicle was kidnapped this morning. The major exit out of the township is blocked, trapping the working-class residents and students in Samora.

Unchecked violence for days

Since Thursday, Vanyaza had experienced the savagery of the ongoing strike. Due to the abrupt withdrawal of cabs, the presence of roadblocks, and the lack of available alternate transportation—buses and private vehicles were attacked and burned by members of the taxi industry—she and her schoolmates were forced to walk the considerable distance from Claremont to Samora.

“What makes me angry is that on Thursday we had to walk from school to our homes. It is very unsafe, but we had no choice because there was no transport. This morning I tried going to school, but we were chased back. It’s really getting out of hand because we have to go to school, especially us grade 12s,” said Vanyaza.

Badly impacted schools and educational system

Western Cape Minister of Education David Maynier announced in a statement on Friday that the current Santaco Western Cape minibus strike had prevented 287,420 students from receiving their constitutionally guaranteed right to a basic education. According to the statement, violence and absenteeism were widespread across the province, with the metro education district experiencing the highest levels. This hindered 9,508 teachers from carrying out their appointed role of educating pupils.

According to an updated statement from Maynier, these numbers drastically increased by August 7th.

“The Santaco-WC minibus taxi strike prevented 456,020 learners and 17,449 staff members from getting to school today, with the Cape Town metro education districts being the worst affected,” read the statement.

“27 schools had to close today, and a number of other schools allowed learners to leave early if needed.”

Despite MEC Maynier’s initial assurance that schools would remain open despite the strike, the increased violence by taxi drivers overnight on Sunday—which included shootings and the burning of vehicles and infrastructure—was a glaring sign that things would get worse as the day progressed.

Additionally, there had been widespread reports of schools being attacked and set ablaze during the taxi strike, but MEC Mynier deemed these reports to be false because no schools had reported such instances.

There was a strong police presence at Borchards Quarry, Nyanga after a car and buses were set alight. (Photo Brenton Geach)

Unfortunately, several schools were forced to close on Monday, either as a result of local protest activity or as a result of unreliable news that terrified parents.

“Please, don’t share fake news that you have not verified. Adding to the chaos is irresponsible and puts our learners at risk”, said MEC Maynier.

Principal AM Krüger of Parow Hoërskool said, “we’re operating normal, everyone is here.

“I can’t give further comments, that’s all I can say,” Krüger said.

In a statement, Equal Education said that the strike is threatening learners’ ability to access schools safely.

Many students and their families who live on the outskirts of Cape Town rely on public transportation to go to and from school and are most affected, according to the statement, as tensions between the Western Cape Government and Santaco escalate and the strike continues this week.

“Learners are either forced to make other plans to travel to school or to stay at home if the situation in their community is particularly tense or if schools are closed as a result. Even learners who use private transport or walk to school may also be affected if violent attacks such as torching and stone-throwing of vehicles continue.”

Sibongile Kwazi, the secretary of the Western Cape Sadtu, discussed the effects of the taxi strike on the province’s educational system in an interview with Newzroom Afrika on Monday.

“The situation is very bad and for us. It’s not only the learners but also the teachers because their lives are also threatened. As Sadtu, it means that we live in a divided society because the instructions from the powers was that schools will not close which means it is safe for others to go to school while it is unsafe for others and unfortunately those who are unable to access schools today are the poor,” said Kwazi.

Schools like Langa High School and Peakview High School have returned to online virtual learning. Communicating with their grade 12 learners through WhatsApp group chats, the schools share activities with learners to keep them on track and help keep up with the syllabus.

Elsewhere, the Golden Arrow Simon’s Town depot is temporarily closed, and Steve Joubert, the principal of Fish Hoek High School, has asked parents to find alternate transportation options to protect their children’s safety.

“We recognise that many of our learners may struggle to get to school due to the ongoing taxi strike and potentially linked intimidation. We encourage parents to reach out to their children and consider having friends or a classmate sleep over for a few nights to support those with transport challenges”, said Joubert.

A body lies at the Borchards Quarry entrance to Nyanga on the 5th day of the taxi strike. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Domino effect of strike action

Le-Ruth House, residence at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, is where coordinator Janet Nontas spoke to the Daily Maverick. “We’re unable to work because there is no transportation for most of the cleaners.”

“A lot of them stay in Delft which is one of the hotspots so their situation is dire currently, dirt has piled up in the students’ kitchens.

“This strike affects everyone, even myself. I feel the pain of it because my children are affected. They can’t go to school, in Delft High School.

“It has a major impact not only on the working class but even people that work with students and learners. This situation is sad.”

One of the Cape Organisation for the Democratic Taxi Association (Codeta)  leaders, Thembekile Andrew Gcwabe wrote a public letter confirming that “The taxi strike which has started on Wednesday 3rd of  August 2023 is going to end on Wednesday 9th of August, therefore, the taxis will start operating on Thursday the 10th of August 2023”. 

Not the first time

In its statement, Equal Education noted that disputes between the provincial administration and Santaco had previously caused disruptions to education in the province.

A taxi blockage in February 2023 stopped approximately 5,000 students from getting to school.

Equal Education said in its statement, “In 2022, a taxi strike almost disrupted the matric examinations when 128,000 learners in the province were kept from accessing their schools. These flare-ups have serious consequences for learners and school communities in marginalised areas like townships, where it is difficult to change routines and plans to accommodate disruptions to access to school and work.

“Learners are being denied their right to learn and access crucial school-based programmes like the National School Nutrition Programme for as long as they are unable to access schools or enter classrooms. Matric learners are losing out on curriculum coverage and exam preparation at a crucial time in their school year. Many of these learners have already experienced numerous setbacks such as the Covid-19 disruptions and rolling blackouts in their schooling journey. Learners simply cannot afford to lose any more teaching and learning time.

“While protest action is an important political tool, the current situation is disappointing, especially because it leaves children and our schools vulnerable. We appeal to both parties to find common ground. The provincial government and Santaco need to take action right away and prioritise the safety of learners and our school communities.”

Source: Daily Maverick

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