Residents have their say over school PA system

KAREN WATKINS

Mwaa mwaa mwaa, is how Steurhof resident Mercia Phillips describes the noise from South Peninsula High School’s (SPHS) public address system, as she tried to sleep after working a 12-hour night shift – one of many cacophonic encounters the Diep River school’s neighbouring residents say they’ve endured over the years before principal Brian Isaacs’s suspension.

The voice, recalls Ms Phillips, would announce that it was introducing the school’s new anthem, and “if the community don’t like it they’ll have to close their ears”. Then a long speech would fol- low. “It’s torture,” said Ms Phillips, the acting chairperson of the Steurhof Community Association (SCA). She was at a meeting called by Herby Atkinson who was irate after reading the profile on Mr Isaacs (“‘The school goes on’, says SP principal”, Bulletin March 17).

Only six people, including ward councillor Carol Bew, at-tended the meeting at Steurhof Community Hall on Tuesday April 5, but this might have been because it was held in the morning, on a work day.

Political outpourings, singing, security messages and calls to teachers, pupils and cleaners are some of what Steurhof residents and other neighbours say they have experienced over the past 10 years (“SP principal and mayor set for meeting,” Bulletin, November 27, 2014).

Last month, the WCED suspended Mr Isaacs, saying it had received complaints that he was using the public address system to insult members of the public and was refusing to allow pupils to return to school. He was already facing two disciplinary matters.

The department has brought several charges against Mr Isaacs while he has also made several appearances in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court, accused of transgressing noise nuisance by-laws related to announcements made over the school’s PA system.

Mr Isaacs has denied all the charges against him and has accused the department of a witch-hunt because his school had opposed many policies and other decisions over the years. He has also lashed back at residents, referring to “apartheid beneficiaries wanting to control the area”.

But Charmaine Maseko, chairwoman of the Seniors’ Association of Steurhof, said at Tuesday’s meeting that there were many bed-ridden, elderly people in the area and Mr Isaacs’s PA polemics had made their lives a misery over the years. One man had recently returned from neurosurgery and another, who had died of cancer, had lived across the road from the school. Many were too scared to speak out about the noise, she said.

Ms Bew also raised concerns about the elderly not being given access to the school for voter registration and in the forthcoming elections on Wednesday August 3. She said they now had to go to Timour Hall Manor House which was not bus and wheelchair-friendly.

Mr Isaacs has refused to allow the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to use the school for voter registration and polling, citing, in a letter to the Western Cape Commission of the IEC, the presence of a DA canvassing table inside the school grounds on national election day May 7 2014. He has also noted that he had received a complaint that DA officials had spoken to voters waiting in line to cast their ballots and when he had pointed this out to IEC official asking to use the school’s hall, he had not received a response.

Ms Bew argues that the IEC has full jurisdiction over registration and voting and makes decisions at its discretion.

Jo Tills, secretary of SCA said Mr Isaacs had claimed that he only used the PA system for emergencies. “And yet messages go on for half-an-hour or more, Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays,” she said, adding that he also mentioned residents by name and who had rental arrears and for how much.

Residents claimed the acting principal, Zeid Baker, had taken up where Mr Isaacs left off, contin- uing with comments about resi- dents.

Ms Tills said Mr Isaacs had been suspended for two-months without pay but he was still at the school, and she had sent pictures of this to the Western Cape Department of Education.

Clive Lake, manager at Mediclinic Constantiaberg, which is adjacent to the school, testified last year in the noise nuisance case. He did not attend the April 5 meeting, but he told the Bulletin that the hospital had tolerated the noise from the school’s PA for a long time.

“The noise happens on a reg- ular basis and comprises various announcements, speeches, music and often adults singing over the PA system. The noise is worse because, we understand, there are external loud speakers on the side of the school facing the hospital,” he said.

Mr Lake, who has worked at the hospital for 21 years, said they owed it to the patients and doctors to have a noise-free environment to promote the well-being and rapid recovery of all patients. But this can be negatively impacted by unnecessary noise.

“Many of our patients are extremely ill, and visitors to the hospital are often anxious on behalf of sick relatives or due to their own unknown diagnosis or outcome of surgical procedures and treatment,” said Mr Lake.

He understands that WCED has installed a PA system inside the school and is asking that the court stop the use of the external loud speakers. He had no objection to having loudspeakers used for sporting events, but the speakers were “superfluous or unnecessary” for the announcements which, he said, were “intrusive” when he was trying to have office meetings.

Mr Lake did not approach authorities, hoping it would “right itself”, and that for “good neighbourly relations” he did not want to get involved.

Mr Baker said he was continuing to communicate with pupils through the PA system. Asked if Mr Isaacs continues to attend the school, he did not confirm or deny this, but said the community was being petty.

The Bulletin tried unsuccessfully to reach Mr Isaacs for further comment and also sent questions to the WCED on Thursday April 7 and again on Monday April 11, but no response was received by the time this edition went to print.