ll Lerato Mokoena wanted to do was to pass Grade 7 so she could take advantage of a scholarship she had been offered by one of Gauteng’s top private schools.
But the dreams of the 12-year-old girl, who wants to be a doctor one day, are slowly dissipating in the face of the tensions that have caused education officials to temporarily shut down her school.
Lerato was one of about 300 pupils, some as young as seven, who were milling about at 6am on a chilly Wednesday, waiting for buses to ferry them to one of eight different primary schools nearby. She didn’t know which school she was going to.
As the sun rose over Davidsonville, scores of neighbours stood on the pavement to see what was going on.
The children ran around, supervised by six teachers, intrigued by the banks of television cameras and photographers.
Parents waiting with them wiped their noses as the older children discussed schoolwork, soapies and the weather.
One of Lerato’s classmates, who did not want to be named, said he and his friends felt like the earth was slowly slipping away from under their feet.
“This is sad. I would have thought these old people would fight for us to be properly educated, but no, they want to close the school. I’m glad this is my last year here.
“Whether I pass or fail, I will not return to this school. My mother is already looking for another school for me for next year,” he said.
A few minutes later, four buses escorted by police cars pulled up and the children boarded. Their parents said their goodbyes, gave them money and sweets, and the children blew kisses as they were driven off.
Roodepoort Primary’s closure capped months of feuding over the appointment of the principal, Nomathemba Molefe, and her two deputies. Coloured parents have insisted that a coloured principal be appointed. Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi announced last Friday that he would close the school and the children would be moved elsewhere while the impasse was being resolved.
The matter is now in the hands of a 10-member negotiation team that Lesufi set up to help. They include Afro-pop star Yvonne Chaka Chaka and former Methodist bishop of Johannesburg Paul Verryn, who were given until yesterday morning to sort out the mess.
But this is cold comfort for Lerato, who is three months behind on the syllabus.
“I will not tell you the name of the school offering me the scholarship. But I have worked so hard for this and it will be a great pity if I fail or do not achieve the marks required for the scholarship,” she said.
“If I do not make it, those who do not want us to go to school should be held responsible. I don’t even know what is happening at the school. There are so many theories.”
She said the scholarship would have been her golden ticket.
“It would have catered for everything, including hostel fees and food. It will be a sad day if silly fights like these hinder my dreams. But all hope is not lost. I am studying hard and the catch-up programme that is being put together will probably help a lot.”
Roodepoort Primary has 1 200 pupils. More than 1 000 of them are African and live in nearby Matholeville. The coloured pupils live mainly in Davidsonville.
The two communities are separated by Main Reef Road.
Of the teaching staff, 16 are African and 12 are coloured.
In Matholeville, where Lerato lives, a few parents spoke out about the issue.
Rose Mahlabe said: “The problem is that they don’t want a black principal and deputies. Maybe they are undermining them because they are black.
“They don’t want black kids there because the school is in their area. It is racism and it’s bad because coloured people are also black. They are not white. I am not happy at all that after so many years, people are still doing these things.” But coloured parent Jerome Lottering denies this. “The issue is the appointment of the principal. It has nothing to do with race. Race issues were started by the media and politicians to serve their own ends. All of us come from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he said.
Lottering insisted that there had been better-qualified candidates for the principal and deputy positions than Molefe, but they were overlooked.
“We are not going to allow cadre deployment and the buying of positions here. If people less qualified come, you have to ask yourself how they got the positions,” he said.
“We are not racists; we are all African. We will accept a black principal, but only if the processes are followed properly. We will not allow mismanagement.”
Buses drop off learners from Roodepoort Primary School at