Depart­ment ‘protesteth too much’

Cape Times - - NEWS -

THE Cape Times, on its own ini­tia­tive, sought the ad­vice of the Press Om­buds­man in a dis­pute with the West­ern Cape Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment about an ar­ti­cle pub­lished on June 3, 2015. The Om­bud’s ad­vice be­low is pre­ceded by cor­re­spon­dence be­tween the Cape Times and the West­ern Cape Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment and Ed­u­ca­tion MEC Deb­bie Schäfer, the Cape Times’s in­ter­nal cor­re­spon­dence and with the Om­bud’s of­fice.

June 3 (let­ter to the edi­tor from WCED spokesper­son Paddy At­twell) Dear Aneez We at­tach a let­ter be­low from Deb­bie Schäfer, Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion in the West­ern Cape, as men­tioned. Kind re­gards Paddy At­twell Direc­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion West­ern Cape Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment Let­ter to the Edi­tor Cape Times Poor com­mu­ni­ties are pro­tect­ing schools We are in se­ri­ous trou­ble if peo­ple in de­pressed ar­eas would not re­port van­dal­ism of schools, as sug­gested in the Cape Times re­port of June 3, 2015 (“Too much to ask poor to re­port van­dal­ism at schools”).

The re­port at­tributes this ex­tra­or­di­nary claim to the Chair­man of the Pro­gres­sive Prin­ci­pals’ As­so­ci­a­tion, Riyaadh Na­jaar, who is quoted as say­ing that it would be “ask­ing too much” to ex­pect poor com­mu­ni­ties to re­port such acts.

He points cor­rectly to rea­sons why peo­ple in th­ese ar­eas may not want to re­port van­dal­ism, and states that the prob­lem to be ad­dressed is the so­cio-eco­nomic one.

Ed­u­ca­tion is cen­tral to ad­dress­ing so­cio-eco­nomic is­sues. It is def­i­nitely not “ask­ing too much” to en­cour­age com­mu­ni­ties to help look af­ter schools, if they have the in­ter­ests of young peo­ple at heart.

In fact, we in­formed the Cape Times Re­porter, when she asked for com­ment on Mr Na­jaar’s re­marks, that we have ex­am­ples of ar­eas like this where com­mu­nity ac­tion IS hap­pen­ing, de­spite de­pressed cir­cum­stances.

The ex­am­ples we gave were Die Duine Pri­mary in Lo­tus River; Delta Pri­mary in Steen­berg; Ath­wood Pri­mary in Hanover Park; and So­phumelela Se­nior Sec­ondary in Philippi. None were men­tioned in your re­port.

The WCED has learned from ex­pe­ri­ence that con­sid­er­able in­vest­ment in se­cu­rity sys­tems is not the fi­nal an­swer.

The sin­gle most im­por­tant fac­tor pro­tect­ing schools in poor com­mu­ni­ties at the end of the day has been the ac­tive sup­port of the com­mu­nity.

This sup­port is the prod­uct of prin­ci­pals who go out of their way to build pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships with their sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties, the hard work of our Safe Schools staff and dis­trict of­fi­cials, and peo­ple of good­will in the com­mu­nity who want the best for their chil­dren.

Prin­ci­pals are lead­ers in their schools and their com­mu­ni­ties. We would have hoped for a more proac­tive and “pro­gres­sive” at­ti­tude from Mr Na­jaar. Deb­bie Schäfer Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, West­ern Cape.

Cape Times edi­tor Aneez Salie e-mails Francesca Vil­lette: “Can you re­spond to the claim be­low please – send to me.”

Vil­lette replies: Hi Aneez MEC Deb­bie Schafer yes­ter­day ap­pealed to par­ents to “adopt a school” as a means of pro­tect­ing it from van­dal­ism.

I asked her how ex­actly peo­ple could “adopt a school”.

Her re­sponse was not a con­crete one. She said par­ents should speak to the prin­ci­pal and fol­low ex­am­ples of schools that had suc­cess­fully de­creased in­ci­dents of van­dal­ism. It was clear that it was an ap­peal with no strat­egy.

I then asked Mr Na­jaar how the com­mu­nity could adopt a school and whether it would work.

I recorded his re­sponse in the ar­ti­cle. Af­ter I spoke with Na­jaar, I put his state­ments to Schafer’s spokesper­son Jes­sica Shelver, and gave the re­sponse cited in Paddy At­twell’s let­ter.

This is the re­sponse I re­ceived from her:

“We have ex­am­ples in poor com­mu­ni­ties where this has been shown not to be the case, eg So­phumelela SS, De Duine PS and Ath­wood Pri­mary in Hanover Park.

“I would have hoped for Mr Na­jaar to sup­port any pos­si­ble ini­tia­tive to pro­tect our schools. What al­ter­na­tives does he of­fer?

“We are do­ing ev­ery­thing we can and it is not enough. We need to try ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble and ev­ery­one needs to play their part. I don’t think he can as­sume to know what peo­ple will and will not do, and would urge all prin­ci­pals to try and en­gage with their com­mu­ni­ties and in­volve them, and see if it makes a dif­fer­ence.”

She has also asked what other or­gan­i­sa­tions say, such as the South African Prin­ci­pals As­so­ci­a­tion. Why is Mr Na­jaar the only one asked for com­ment?

Salie sends Vil­lette’s re­sponse to At­twell: Hi Paddy Be­low is a re­sponse I re­ceived from the jour­nal­ist con­cerned. Please read it and then re­sub­mit your let­ter. Re­gards Aneez

At­twell’s re­sponse: Dear Aneez Your re­ply refers. Min­is­ter Schäfer’s let­ter refers to the fol­low­ing claims and com­ment re­ported in your ar­ti­cle:

1. That de­pressed com­mu­ni­ties… would not call au­thor­i­ties to re­port van­dal­ism in schools (as re­ported in your in­tro­duc­tion).

2. That Mr Na­jaar said it was “ask­ing too much” to ex­pect poorer com­mu­ni­ties to re­port such acts.

She is com­ment­ing purely on your ar­ti­cle as pub­lished.

The fact re­mains that she pro­vided ex­am­ples of schools that are well sup­ported by their com­mu­ni­ties to Ms Vil­lette, and the Cape Times de­clined to men­tion this.

This cre­ates the im­pres­sion that you have omit­ted in­for­ma­tion that does not suit the an­gle of the story.

We are open to fur­ther dis­cus­sion, but in the cir­cum­stances we see no rea­son to amend the let­ter. Kind re­gards Paddy At­twell Direc­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion West­ern Cape Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment.

Schäfer e-mails At­twell and copies Salie and the Cape Times: Quite cor­rect Paddy. I told Francesca in re­spect of Na­jaar’s com­ments that we have con­crete ex­am­ples that show that poor com­mu­ni­ties can and do get in­volved, and gave the ex­am­ples in the re­sponse she refers to. I said that peo­ple could con­tact those schools where com­mu­ni­ties are in­volved so that they can em­u­late that at their schools. I also told Francesca that schools have safety com­mit­tees which par­ents should en­sure are op­er­at­ing prop­erly, and that they could par­tic­i­pate in th­ese and work to­gether with com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions, the SAPS and Metro Po­lice, as well as our Safe Schools di­rec­torate to en­sure bet­ter col­lab­o­ra­tion.

I do not see how this is “an ap­peal with no strat­egy”. In­ter­est­ingly ev­ery other re­porter clearly un­der­stood our mes­sage, and con­veyed it as such. Francesca is the only one who did not seem to un­der­stand. But whether she un­der­stands or not, she asked for my opin­ion on Mr Na­jaar’s com­ments, I gave them, and they were not re­ported. The ques­tion is “why”? And why this sup­posed

Salie e-mails Cape Times deputy edi­tor Aziz Hart­ley and Vil­lette: “Can the two of you see me please asap”, “Please dis­cuss Schafer’s let­ter and let me know.”

June 4: Hart­ley replies: Aneez: I have dis­cussed Francesca.

The MEC called a press con­fer­ence deal­ing with van­dal­ism at schools. She listed in­ci­dents, costs and spoke of the im­pact of van­dal­ism. Our re­porter asked the MEC about se­cu­rity at schools and van­dal­ism hot spots.

The MEC, hav­ing ap­pealed for com­mu­nity as­sis­tance was later asked to ex­plain her ap­peal for com­mu­ni­ties to “adopt” schools. She could not give a con­crete re­sponse. Francesca, hav­ing done the right thing – went to get re­ac­tion. And who bet­ter from the head of an or­gan­i­sa­tion whose mem­bers are prin­ci­pals at schools in com­mu­ni­ties where van­dal­ism is rife. So she asked Mr Na­jaar, who knew what he was talk­ing about.

The al­le­ga­tion that in­for­ma­tion was left out to suit the an­gle is a red her­ring. The point is: The MEC made an ap­peal to com­mu­ni­ties to “adopt” schools. The bulk of the story was about her call. Had she wanted to use ex­am­ples of schools that were suc­cess­fully pro­tected, then why not say so up front?

To say we omit­ted in­for­ma­tion that did not suit the story’s an­gle is not only disin­gen­u­ous but also vin­dic­tive. It is our duty to get an­other view – fail­ing that we’ll be do­ing PR jobs.



Salie in­structs Hart­ley to seek an opin­ion from the Press Om­buds­man’s of­fice.

On June 4 Hart­ley con­tacts Latiefa Mo­bara, public ad­vo­cate at the Press Om­buds­man’s of­fice ask­ing for an opin­ion on the is­sue Hi Latiefa Thank you so much for tak­ing my call. As dis­cussed, we would ap­pre­ci­ate your opin­ion on the mat­ter.

I’ve se­quenced events be­low, start­ing with the ar­ti­cle pub­lished yes­ter­day.

Thank you in ad­vance for your as­sis­tance Re­gards Aziz

June 8: From the Press Om­buds­man’s of­fice. Dear Mr Hart­ley My apolo­gies for send­ing this to you (only) now. See the re­sponse from the Om­buds­man as I’ve dis-

From: Jo­han Retief Sent: Fri­day, June 5, 2015, 5.44pm To: Latiefa Mo­bara Sub­ject: RE: As dis­cussed: Hi The ar­ti­cle was news­wor­thy and bal­anced. The state­ment “ask­ing too much” did not come from the news­pa­per, but from a source. The fact that it did not men­tion the other schools that had no prob­lems is nei­ther here nor there – the story was not about a com­pre­hen­sive com­par­i­son be­tween all the schools, but about a real prob­lem that cer­tainly was in the public in­ter­est.

The Depart­ment protesteth too much. Re­gards Jo­han

cussed the is­sue with him and sent him all your e-mails. You are wel­come to call me. Best re­gards Latiefa

an­tag­o­nism to re­sponse now? Re­gards Deb­bie Schafer Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion West­ern Cape Pro­vin­cial Gov­ern­ment print­ing my fol­lowed by an­other e-mail: FRANCESCA VIL­LETTE



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