5th Aug 2020 3:14:38 PM

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Children of Fire
Appeal for support for class action for education rights of disabled children

Keba Makaqa, aged 12, is blind and has attended the Johannesburg School for the Blind sporadically from 2005 to 2007, as a weekly boarder. He lives in the Sebokeng area and transport is a major problem for his family. He cannot attend a government boarding school on a termly basis because of a cruel physical attack on him in the past; the perpetrator is still at large and both the school concerned, and the police, seemed indifferent to his plight. E-mail: firechildren@icon.co.za


Dorah Mokoena was severely burnt in a fire in an 'informal settlement' in 1994, when she was six months old. Two years later, while still in hospital, she was befriended by Bronwen Jones, her son Tristan, and his friend Thobeka who have cared for her ever since. (See ChildrenFIRST, April/May 2000, Vol. 4, No.30, pp 3-5)

In 1997 they managed, with the support of other caring friends, to overturn the doctors' decision to remove Dorah's eyes because, they said, she was blind, and the treatment was too expensive. Now she is in danger of being deprived of her right to education Bronwen Jones writes: 'Dorah Mokoena, aged 8, has no natural nose, no natural lips nor natural eyelids, almost no vision, a hole in her skull in her forehead, deformed ears and mild to moderate hearing loss, limited speech, delayed development from prolonged hospitalisation and no fingers.

'Dorah's biggest disability is her appearance and the reaction of the general public to her perceived "ugliness". She can walk (despite medical statements that she would never walk). She can communicate, and has an extensive understood vocabulary. She can feed herself, brush her own teeth and partially dress and undress herself.

Dorah has the right to education

'With great difficulty we got her into a state primary school for more than a year, but they would not teach her. The government would not pay for a classroom assistant. They would not pay for a safety rail to allow the child to go to the bathroom without the risk of falling off a raised concrete platform onto the playground below. They would not provide tactile teaching aids or any other specialised equipment nor staff training. They would not sit her at the front of the class where she would have been less disturbed by the background noise of the other children, but sat her right at the back. They would not let her play with other children in the break times. If the parent-funded classroom assistant was away, the child was expected to stay away.

'Contrary to government policy, they would not work with the parent. They quoted a discredited paediatrician to state that the child was microcephallic, as it if were fact, despite having the nature of the bone-heat-damage explained to them (and the fact that it is making part of her skull grow out of proportion to the rest of her skull). They were consistently cruel to the parent and the child, some teachers physically shying away from the child even after she had been at the school for many months. The province said that the child could go to a mental institution on the grounds that it had small "classes". They would not allocate any extra money for staff training, to buy equipment to teach a visually impaired child, nor would they second staff to the institution so that teachers and so-called classroom assistants (more like cleaners) could themselves have time off for training.

'As a result of this, I set up the Johannesburg School for Blind, Low vision and Multiple Disability Children. Until it has 20 pupils it cannot be registered as a school. So Home Schooling forms have to be filled out and sent to the province. I crossed out the sentence where the government is relieved of financial responsibility for the cost of home schooling.

Constitutional rights

'Children of Fire Trust has obtained the services of an advocate, pro deo, who says that there is a strong case - based on the Bill of Rights in the Constitution - to take the matter to the Constitutional Court. The gist of the argument will be that South African children of school going age who cannot be accommodated in the state system and taught properly, must have the same financial sum to spend on their education as is budgeted for the education of every child in their province. For example, in Gauteng that is about R15000 a year and in Western Cape it's about R28000 a year. Once the case is won, every charity- run school or proper home-schooling programme will, at a minimum, have that sum of money per pupil per year. It makes employing one's own classroom assistant or one's own teacher far more feasible.

Time is of the essence

'The case will be far stronger as a class action, on behalf of all children whose right to education is compromised because of their disability. We, therefore, need more parents and children to come forward. If, for example, you have to spend R1500 a month to send your autistic child to the Key School in Johannesburg, you would have ten months of fees covered by this sum. Time is of the essence. There has already been interest from the Western Cape but it would be strongest to have children represented from all provinces.'

Children FIRST strongly supports this appeal and encourages any readers, who know of similar cases of discrimination against disabled learners, or who wish to express their support, to contact:

Bronwen Jones
Director - Children of Fire Trust
PO Box 1048
Auckland Park 2006
Tel +27 (0)11 726 6529
Tel/Fax/Ans +27 (0)11 482 4258
E-mail: firechildren@icon.co.za

This material is Copyright The Dorah Mokoena Charitable Trust and/or Children of Fire , 1998-2020.
Distribution or re-transmission of this material, excluding the Schools' Guide, is expressly forbidden without prior permission of the Trust.
For further information, email firechildren@icon.co.za