Schools in South Africa may have generally improved since 1994 but for special schools, the conditions are appalling. There is no regulatory framework specific for special schools, which has led to injuries, deaths, abuse and neglect of special needs pupils.
These incidents have previously made headlines which led the Legal Resource Centre and Centre for Child Law to intervene. On 24 November 2017, we wrote a letter to the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga requesting her to enact regulations to ensure that special schools hostels are managed in an appropriate and protective manner.
The Minister acknowledged our letter, but to this day, nothing that shows that the Ministry took the as one of urgency. According to the Constitution all children are entitled to to education, dignity and not to be neglected. The Minister is obliged by law to make sure that these rights are protected and fulfilled. But this seems to be not the case with special schools.
According to Times Live, 17 November 2015, Vukuhambe Mdantsane school for pupils with physical disabilities caregivers were accused of physically abusing the children at the hostel. After a formal complaint the Grahamstown High Court appointed a curator to investigate. The curator’s report revealed that the pupils were abused and sometimes neglected.
In the same year, in North West, three teenage girls were burnt to death and 23 injured when they jumped from a building at the North West School for the Deaf in Leeudoringstad. The cause was said to have been poor infrastructure.
On 30 November 2010, Sowetan Live reported that four pupils died at Christiana School for the blind after a hostel room they were sleeping in caught fire.
Special schools play as vital role as normal schools. It is where education for children with disabilities goes on. It worries us that they are regulated the same way as normal schools although the pupils have special needs. The 2015 Department of Basic Education report shows that there are “high rates of child abuse in hostels”.
In a series of interviews with school in the Gauteng and North West Centre for Child Law found that special schools are understaffed which leads to neglect of pupils and exposing them to avoidable risks. Also from the interviews was that the infrastructure was not suitable for the special needs children.
After 24 August 2015 North West School for the Deaf in Leeudoringstad incident, where three teenage girls were burnt to death the Portfolio Committee for Education and Sport Development, Arts, Culture and Traditional Affairs released a statement after investigation where it noted, “the incident at Christiana should have highlighted the challenges in special schools. It is unfortunate that the Department continues to fail in providing these special schools with the necessary security personnel and care-giver.”
We believe all children should be treated equally, irrespective of their condition or the school they attend. Minister Motshekga has the powers to do this in terms of the section 61 of Schools Act 84 of 1996. It is for this reason that we plead with her to treat this matter urgently.
Compel all special schools to employ enough care-givers, provide them with basic training to take care of pupils with special needs and compel them to improve their infrastructure. The parents are complaining, children are dying, and damages are adding-up every day – O’ Minister hear the parents’ cries!
Thokozani Dladla (BA, LLB student)
Cecile van Schalkwyk (BA, LLB and LLM)
Grahamstown Legal Resource Centre