ANC rep in show­down

CityPress - - News - LUBA­BALO NGCUKANA luba­balo.ngcukana@city­press.co.za

Chris­tian Martin and at least 40 other fu­ri­ous par­ents in Port El­iz­a­beth spent the week sleep­ing on the floor of the district education of­fices in protest against a se­vere teacher short­age in the north­ern ar­eas. The 47-year-old ANC pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture mem­ber is set for a show­down with his own party af­ter the East­ern Cape education depart­ment sent him a let­ter order­ing him and the other par­ents to leave the build­ing or be dragged to court.

In a let­ter sent to him and the other “unau­tho­rised oc­cu­pants of the Ethel Valen­tine Build­ing” on Wed­nes­day, Martin was told to “va­cate the hall with im­me­di­ate ef­fect, fail­ing which an ur­gent evic­tion or­der will be ob­tained to have you re­moved ... from the Port El­iz­a­beth district of­fice”.

But Martin and the par­ents refuse to budge be­cause the teacher cri­sis has not been solved.

Three weeks ago, Martin laid charges of in­tim­i­da­tion against the pro­vin­cial education depart­ment at the Gel­van­dale Po­lice Sta­tion af­ter an­gry par­ents be­long­ing to the North­ern Ar­eas Education Fo­rum forced the clo­sure of 56 schools in the neigh­bour­hood from the be­gin­ning of the aca­demic year.

Martin has also laid a com­plaint against the depart­ment with the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion for vi­o­lat­ing the rights of the area’s chil­dren, who are bat­tling to learn amid a se­vere teacher short­age that has been drag­ging on with­out res­o­lu­tion for five years.

Iron­i­cally, per­haps, Martin, who hails from the sub­urb of Ar­ca­dia, prefers a more diplo­matic ap­proach, whereby chil­dren are al­lowed to go back to class while par­ents deal with the depart­ment and take to the streets.

“A child at school – even if there is one teacher – is bet­ter than a child at home do­ing noth­ing or, worse, in jail. We are cre­at­ing more dropouts and gang­sters by say­ing our chil­dren must not at­tend school,” he said.

For Martin, the strug­gle is in­tensely per­sonal. His 18-year-old son, Chris­tian Martin ju­nior, at­tended Bethels­dorp Com­pre­hen­sive School and wanted to be­come a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer. But fre­quent school stop­pages and protests meant that he failed to ob­tain the marks he needed to study fur­ther. He is now un­der­go­ing a bridg­ing course and wants to go to Nelson Man­dela Metropoli­tan Univer­sity, and fol­low his dream to be­come the first en­gi­neer in his fam­ily.

Martin’s strug­gle is also political, fu­elled, he said, by his con­vic­tion as a Khoisan ac­tivist, which drives him to con­tinue his cam­paign.

“Dur­ing colo­nial times and apartheid, the Khoi peo­ple were made to be farm work­ers and were de­prived of education,” he said. “It’s im­por­tant for me to fight for the de­scen­dents of the Khoi peo­ple to get education, and to par­take in the econ­omy of this coun­try and in other spheres ... be­cause if you look at the peo­ple who are the most im­pris­oned to­day due to no education, it’s the coloured peo­ple.”

Coloured peo­ple, he in­sisted, were the least rep­re­sented in univer­si­ties or tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional train­ing col­leges. His cam­paign ap­pears to be hav­ing some ef­fect. This week, there have been some pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments, with the depart­ment pledg­ing to hire more teach­ers and deal­ing with education prob­lems in the area.

Pro­vin­cial Education MEC Mandla Makupula said the depart­ment had is­sued 45 ap­point­ment let­ters for teach­ers in the Port El­iz­a­beth district, and 53 for the Uiten­hage district. Ver­i­fi­ca­tion of other ap­pli­ca­tions were still on­go­ing, with fur­ther ap­point­ments of “qual­i­fy­ing ed­u­ca­tors ex­pected”, he said.

Those fig­ures, how­ever, are for the whole of Nelson Man­dela Bay metro and the depart­ment did not re­spond to re­quests for in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing how many teach­ers were needed in the north­ern ar­eas. Martin, how­ever, said that the schools needed 162 teach­ers and only 32 had been ap­pointed so far.

Martin took City Press to Die Heuwel Pri­mary School, which he at­tended as a child. The school was de­serted and its gates were bolted shut with large pad­locks.

“My aim is just to get the education depart­ment to do some­thing about prin­ci­pals and teach­ers pre­vent­ing pupils from go­ing to school. That’s why I went the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion route,” he said.

Martin, the chair­per­son of the so­cial de­vel­op­ment port­fo­lio com­mit­tee in the East­ern Cape pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture, said as a “dis­ci­plined cadre of the move­ment” he was “duty-bound to pro­tect the rights of pupils to free and qual­ity education”.

“Af­ter many meet­ings were fruit­less, I de­cided I was go­ing to open a case against the depart­ment for its in­ac­tion to re­open the schools and deal with their of­fi­cials, and so forth,” he said.

The mat­ter will be heard in the East­ern Cape High Court in Port El­iz­a­beth as soon as a date can be set.

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

DE­FI­ANT

Chris­tian Martin, ANC mem­ber of the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture, and dozens of an­gry par­ents in Port El­iz­a­beth have been threat­ened with court ac­tion

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