Sunday 19 May

According to the Constitution all people have the right to equal benefit of the law and to the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms. The Constitution  states that no one may be unfairly discriminated against on the grounds of their disability. When it comes to education the Constitution also says that “everyone” has a right to a basic education.

But across the length and breadth of South Africa children with disabilities are being denied the right to education. Numerous communities are complaining of poor access, overcrowding and inadequately trained teachers. There is a great al of evidence that the Department of Basic Education and its provincial counter-parts have not effectively planned for, invested in or monitored the quality of education for children with disabilities.

Tens of thousands of disabled children are out of schools completely, or in schools but receiving an education that is inferior and undignified. This leaves the children unable to go forward in life and condemns them to adult lives of poverty, sensory deprivation and suffering.

This is exactly what is happening to parents and children in the Zululand and Umkhanyakude districts of KwaZulu-Natal. There are only three Special Needs school in a district of over half a million people, namely the Sisizakele, Khulani and Intuthuko. All together these schools admit less than 450 children. There are hundreds of children on their waiting lists. There has also been no census of the number of disabled children in the district since 1997 – and at that time the number of children identified was 340.

In order to address this crisis Siphilisa Isizwe, a Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) based in kwaNgwanase in the uMhlabuyalingana district, has begun collecting statements from parents describing how many children with disabilities are denied access to education, discriminated against and experience attacks on their dignity.  Parents are complaining that:

  • There is insufficient space in schools that cater for learners with special needs;
  • That many teachers are not properly trained to teach learners with disabilities;
  • That ordinary schools have not been adapted to accommodate learners with disabilities who could otherwise be mainstreamed in ordinary schools;
  • They are requested to wait for long periods, often several years, before their application for their children to be placed at school is dealt with.

This problem has been ongoing for many years and as a result many disabled children are being denied their rights to basic education.

Unfortunately, in their efforts to address this crisis parents have been treated with contempt by officials or the Department of Education (DoE) in KZN. On 13th January 2014 parents who attempted to register their children at Sisazakele for the new school year were turned away. They were told to come back and meet officials from the DoE on 24th January.

They did and on 24th January more than 60 parents travelled long distances to get to the school. When they got there a Mr Motha, the District Director of the KZN DoE refused to answer the parents’ questions on the grounds that ‘he was not mandated to meet with the DPO and parents’, but merely to ‘uplift a memorandum from a march that he was notified about’. Despite claims to the contrary Mr Motha insisted that the parents had marched to the school, that the ‘march’ was illegal and that it was therefore not recognised by the Municipality. When he attempted to explain this to parents he was met with an angry stream of complaints that he was eventually forced to take note of, acknowledge and promise a response.

A further meeting of parents and the DoE will therefore take place today, Tuesday 28th January 2014, at 10.00am the Ingwavuma Circuit Office.

Siphilisa Isizwe and SECTION27 are calling for wide public support for the parents’ efforts to have their children’s rights respected.

We call on the DoE to provide the parents with answers, concrete commitments and timeframes and to fulfill their duties to provide basic education to all the children in the district. If a satisfactory plan is not put in place parents and their children will look at other ways to enforce their rights.

For further information contact: Margaret Masinga, Siphilisa Isizwe: 083 354 9103; Mark Heywood, SECTION27: 083 634 8806

Lorato Jood is the Principal of Sisazakhele Special Needs School and can answer questions about the challenges of providing quality basic education for children with special needs in the district: 072 233 9739