Dear Premier Zille,
I am a school teacher at a Thandokhulu High School in Mowbray, and I am writing to express my support for turning the Tafelberg site in Sea Point into public housing.
Many public schools in Cape Town are located far from students’ homes. Sea Point has several schools serving majority commuting students. Simply getting to school presents a significant barrier to academic progress for many students, affecting attendance, participation, and performance. These barriers could be effectively overcome with the development of public housing that shorten or remove long commutes.
The school where I work, Thandokhulu High School, has just over 1,100 learners and suffers from many of the same problems as public schools in Sea Point. Over 95% of learners commute to school on a daily basis from various townships on the Cape Flats including Khayelitsha, Langa, Nyanga, Crossroads, Gugulethu, Westlake and Capricorn Park amongst others. The distance between our school and students’ residential areas negatively impacts our learners in many ways, due to logistical challenges with transport, their inability to participate in extramural activities, and limited communication between parents and teachers.
Parents have to pay significant portions of their income on transport fares and sometimes run out of money towards the end of the month. When this happens, the learners are forced to stay at home and miss a full day or two of schooling. In addition, when trains and buses run late, learners often miss out on the first and second periods. This does not just affect the student but also the entire class, as lessons are constantly interrupted by latecomers. These disruptions are difficult for the school to prevent, since late coming is caused by external forces, such as Metrorail delays, accidents on the roads, or buses not running on schedule. Furthermore, protests by taxi drivers mean that it is not safe for learners to travel by taxi on some days, and they miss out on a day’s schooling. On some occasions the school sends learners home early when it is notified of potential protests at taxi ranks in the townships. Finally, some parents buy their children a monthly Metrorail ticket. The learners therefore arrive at school without extra transport money. If there is a disruption in the Metrorail service and trains are not running, it leaves these learners stranded at school with no way of getting home. They resort to begging for money from friends and teachers; on a daily basis, I am asked for transport money by a learner.
Long commutes for students make it difficult for the school to offer extramural activities, despite its best attempts. Since bus and taxi fares increase after a certain time, learners cannot stay after school too late, and it also becomes unsafe for them to arrive home in the dark. Parents are unable to attend after school events, prize-giving or sports events for the same reason.
Lastly, the distance between our school and various townships in the Cape Flats serves as a barrier for effective communication between teachers and parents. Since many of them work late, and are unable to travel to school after hours as there are few buses and trains running at that time, they often cannot attend PTA meetings where the performance of their child can be discussed. Communicating with parents is difficult, which in turn affects the performance of their child at school as the link between teacher and parent is effectively broken by the distance that has to be travelled. Learners therefore become more difficult to manage in the classroom as they know there will be few to no parental consequences for their bad behavior or poor performance in school.
Government provision of affordable housing in affluent areas such as Sea Point would shorten the distance between local schools and students’ residences, eliminating many of the logistical, extracurricular, and communication challenges that impair academic progress. Developing the Tafelberg site into public housing would be an effective tool in rendering education more accessible and effective for students across Cape Town, and would also serve as an example for other South African cities to do the same.