Oasis Skills Development Centre, situated in the ZF Mgcawu municipality, in Upington Northern Cape, has been operating since 1999. In 2015, Oasis was officially launched as a protective workshop and training facility for disabled children. On its premises is an early childhood development centre with specialised equipment and a stimulation room to accommodate the special learning needs of children with disabilities.
Through its skills development programme, Oasis empowers unemployed youth and disabled people with practical skills. These skills include beadwork, organic food gardening, needlework, furniture production, paving and baking skills to prepare people living with disabilities for work opportunities.
Since the organisation was registered as an NPO in 2002, the centre has actively advocated for the rights and wellbeing of the disabled in Upington. Upon Oasis joining the Civil Society Organisation in Provincial Legislature (CSPPL) Programme in 2018, its representatives expressed concerns around the lack of schools which can accommodate children with special learning needs in Upington. They also highlighted the extent to which this challenge affects disabled children, parents and the community of Upington. The representatives shared a desire to gain knowledge and skills from the CSPPL Programme, which will enable them to use the provincial legislature as a platform for resolving citizen issues.
According to Oasis, the major challenges affecting the work of the organisation in Upington is the lack of special schools for children with special learning needs. Currently, the Northern Cape schools accommodating special learning needs are in Kimberley, which is over 400km away from Upington. A further challenge is that these school often have long waiting lists and cannot enroll all disabled children who apply to the schools.
Representatives from Oasis Skills Centre identify this as a serious concern, stating that though basic education is a fundamental human right in terms of sections 9 and 29 of the South African constitution, this is not the reality for many disabled children in Upington who can’t access schools that accommodate their learning needs. The impact of this challenge is made evident by the teachers and parents who refer learners with special learning needs and can’t cope in mainstream schools to Oasis Skills Centre for enrollment. Due to limited space, and insufficient resources to accommodate every child referred to the centre, children are on the waiting lists for periods up to two years.
Another challenge that the organisation has encountered stems from a decision taken by the Provincial Department of Social Development (DSD) in April 2019. Since the centre registered as an NGO in 2002, it has received support from the provincial DSD. In 2015, when Oasis registered a protective workshop, it received monthly subsidies of about R11 000 for the disabled children enrolled at the workshop. Oasis has used this money to purchase fuel for the buses transporting disabled children to the centre as well as food for the children while at the centre.
At the beginning of April 2019, the provincial DSD informed Oasis of its decision to stop subsidies for the 58 children aged between 7 – 18 who attend the Skills Development Centre who are regarded as of school-going age. The reasons given by DSD in its communique to Oasis are as follows:
“It must be noted that with the implementation of the new ECD Policy in 2018, children between the ages of 8 – 17 years were excluded from the funding from the ECD budget. Children of school-going age, whether they have a disability or not, are the responsibility of the DOE. Support and funding must, therefore, be provided by DOE.”
In an attempt to resolve this subsidy challenge, and due to the concern about the lack of special schools that accommodate for children with special learning needs, Oasis wrote a letter to the Northern Cape Department of Education. In the letter dated 24 July 2019, Oasis requested that the Department of Basic Education give Oasis the subsidy that previously came from provincial DSD, and that the department immediately commits to building a school for disabled children with special learning needs in Upington.
The Provincial Department of Basic Education responded to this letter by agreeing to meet Oasis to discuss these challenges. The meeting, held on 2 September 2019, involved members of the community, parents of disabled children, a representative from Oasis and a delegation from the Provincial Department of Basic Education. The Provincial Department of Basic Education responded that they would need to find funds to provide Oasis with a subsidy for disabled children attending the protective workshop and that building schools disabled children was a priority of the government.
Given how pressing these issues have been to Oasis, the organisation adopted an advocacy strategy involving informing local and national media outlets to bring these challenges to the public’s attention and to ask the provincial government to find solutions to these challenges.
Oasis also contacted the CSPPL Programme staff and requested guidance with writing a petition to the Northern Cape provincial legislature. The petition was developed with the assistance of the CSPPL Programme staff, who ensured that the petition was consistent with the provincial legislature’s Petitions Act of 2009.
The petition was submitted to the Northern Cape Provincial legislatures petitions officer on 9 October 2019. In the petition, Oasis requested that the provincial legislature, through its legislative function, should
- Review, and make recommendations on, the early childhood development policy of 2018 that does not make subsidy provisions for disabled children beyond the age of 7 years;
- through its committee working with disabled and vulnerable groups, conduct oversight into the impact of the lack of specialised schooling in Upington on disabled children; and
- takes a position which will encourage the provincial government to urgently priorities the building of specialised schools for the disabled in Upington.
At the time of writing Oasis was still in contact with the provincial legislature, awaiting feedback on their petition.