News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Tuesday July 16th 2019

Legal war looms over juvenile school


Juveniles at Ottery Youth Care and Training Centre rehearse for theatre play 'Shakespeare Unplugged'. Photos: Yasser Booley/WCN

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) could face an uphill battle as it plans to shut down the Ottery Youth Care and Training centre.

The WCED said last week that it was busy transferring the function of the centre to the provincial Department of Social Development (DSD) in line with the requirements of the Children’s Care Act.

The centre has accused DSD of imposing an “illegal embargo” on the admission of more youngsters this year, saying they were prepared to fight both departments in court in order to keep their doors open.

Previously, the WCED has faced massive public resistance in its attempt to shut down 27 schools in the province.

The centre opened over 60 years ago and is currently rehabilitating and upskilling what looks like its last group of 62 boys who have been in conflict with the law.

Some of its skills training programmes included woodwork, carpentry, panel beating and joinery.

Other programmes incorporated volunteering for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), playing rugby for local clubs and getting involved in the Independent Theatre Movement of South Africa.

School governing body chairperson Azeem Badrodien said they were an accredited institution and the DSD did not have the capacity to assist the youngsters.

He said that once transferred, the boys would be traumatised and could find themselves in “lockdown or on the streets.”

These facilities were like prisons, he continued, unlike their centre where youth were being empowered and allowed to leave at an appropriate time. He suggested that the WCED should upgrade their facilities instead of spending money on expensive privatised provincial facilities.

Badrodien said the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) would rally behind them with its concern regarding what would happen to teachers once the centre closed.

Among its staff of 80 members, the centre has 23 teachers and 20 child-care workers.

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Casey said in line with the Children’s Act, all child and youth care centres maintained and managed by their department are to be transferred to the provincial departments of social development. As such, since the beginning of the school year, the courts have been referring all learners to youth care centres under the DSD.

She said: “The Ottery site has not enrolled any new learners this year, however, it is continuing with its operations under the management of the WCED.

“Any decision on the future of the site or its operations will emanate from a process of consultation with labour organisations and the relevant departments. Any decision will be based on what is in the best interest of these learners”.

Provincial DSD spokesperson Melany Kuhn could not respond to media queries on their plans for this centre, but instead referred questions to WCED.

WCED said there were 62 youngsters at the centre who had committed crimes ranging from house breaking and auto theft to assault and rape. –Francis Hweshe

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