Cape Town officials overlook us, say children’s teachers

(This article was published in the Weekend Argus, a regional newspaper in the Western Cape province, South Africa, on 23 August 2015.)

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Thousands of Cape Flats children will not benefit from a local government plan to spend millions of Rands on early childhood centres because of ongoing battles to register these sites.

The City of Cape Town said last week it planned to spend R13-million on early childhood development (ECD) “construction projects as well as resources and training for ECD practitioners” over the next year.

But teachers at ECD sites say they will not benefit from this because city officials make it difficult for them to register their crèches and preschools.

City officials meanwhile say ECD sites that are not registered are failing to comply with safety regulations, putting children’s lives at risk.

Suzette Little, the city’s mayoral committee member for social development and ECD, said it was their role to “help ECD centres become compliant with the provisions of the Children’s Act so that they are able to register”.

After the city registers these sites, the Western Cape’s social development department (DSD), which oversees this sector, assists centres financially.

Little said “standard health requirements, clearance from the city’s fire and rescue service as well as the relevant building regulations” were among criteria for meeting compliance to register.

Weekend Argus visited ECD centres last week, including Mighty Minds Educare in Heideveld, which operates from a city-owned building.

The centre’s principal Charlene Johnson said she has been battling with the city since 2008 to fix its own building so that she could meets compliance requirements for ECD registration.

Charlene Johnson, principal of Mighty Minds Educare in Heideveld, says city officials have stifled her application to register her school. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Charlene Johnson, principal of Mighty Minds Educare in Heideveld, says city officials have stifled her application to register her school. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“I’m struggling with fire clearance and health. My fire hose is out of order but I’m waiting for weeks for the city’s fire department to come and sort it out,” said Johnson.

“We pay rent to the city and have been in this building since 2008. Last year the city spent R220,000 to fix the building but it is still not compliant with its own regulations.”

Johnson said another requirement to be registered as an ECD centre is having a lease for the building the centre operates from.

“I’ve been battling since 2008 to get a lease and only got it two weeks ago. That’s also why I’m still not registered,” said Johnson.

“You need to have a lease if you want to be registered. The problem also is that I got a lease for only two years and to be registered you need a lease for five years.”

Johnson added: “We need to be registered so that we can get funding. Donors want to know that you are registered.

“We all need to work together but the city is being so unfair.”

Vanessa Adams, assistant principal at Little Bright Stars Educare in Heideveld, said their registration was revoked last year when they moved from school classrooms that they were renting to containers on the school’s grounds.

Vanessa Adams, assistant principal at Little Bright Stars Educare in Heideveld, said their registration was revoked last year. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Vanessa Adams, assistant principal at Little Bright Stars Educare in Heideveld, said their registration was revoked last year. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“We received containers from Breadline Africa (a non-profit group). We were even on Top Billing (TV show) when that happened,” said Adams.

“When we moved into the containers last year the city said we could not be registered because the containers are not safe for the children.”

Adams said numerous ECD centres were operating from containers across Cape Town’s low-income areas.

She said most of the children at these centres were from low-income areas and being registered meant centres could apply for funding.

“Our children come from poor families. We offer them breakfast and lunch. It is important that we are registered because right now without that we don’t get any money to help our children,” said Adams.

Fazlyn Ajam, secretary of the Western Cape ECD United Network, said a limited number of centres would benefit from city funding.

Fazlyn Ajam, secretary of the Western Cape ECD United Network, says a limited number of centres would benefit from city funding. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Fazlyn Ajam, secretary of the Western Cape ECD United Network, says a limited number of centres would benefit from city funding. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“The city has 24 buildings that they serve. Out of the 2,000 centres in the province, that’s the ones that benefit. There are so many centres that are not registered that don’t benefit from the city,” said Ajam.

Little said unregistered centres did not meet criteria “due to lack of space, resources and/or funding… (and) are not able to provide the essentials that improve child safety”.

“The location of so many unregistered sites in houses, garages and backyarder structures is a challenge for improvements to infrastructure,” said Little.

“They fail to meet infrastructure compliance requirements, such as health and safety. Therefore, they are unable to access the subsidy provided by the (provincial) department of social development.”

Little added: “Many of the practitioners and less so principals of the unregistered sites are relatively inexperienced in the ECD field.

“Education equipment and material is often lacking in poorer areas, which limits children’s opportunities for play and development.

“And, while incidents can happen anywhere, children are better served by being in environments with proper fire safety equipment and people trained to use the equipment, access to certified first-aiders, and a healthy and clean environment.”

DSD said in a statement that ECD centres that meet registration criteria would also benefit from training it offers.

“Parents are also urged to check on the registration status of their child’s ECD centre by calling the department,” it said.

The City of Cape Town intends to spend R13-million in the 2015/16 financial year is earmarked on early childhood development (ECD) “construction projects as well as resources and training for ECD practitioners”.

The city said it “owns 24 fully operational ECD facilities that are leased to ECD non-profit organizations”.

“A total of R10,5-million has been set aside for the construction of three more centres of excellence in Delft, Golden Gate in Netreg, and the Nantes in Athlone,” said city officials.

“In addition, a partnership with private donors will see the construction of two centres of excellence in Masiphumelele.”

This has raised concerns of hundreds of ECD centres which say they are left out in the cold, and they say this is because the city does not help them meet compliance.

The city says it is “estimated that there are just under 1,700 ECD centres in Cape Town”.

“Approximately half of these are registered. The City of Cape Town and the Western Cape department of social development join forces every year for an ECD registration drive aimed at assisting unregistered centres to become compliant so that they can become registered facilities,” it said.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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