Department ‘protesteth too much’
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