Too many hoops for preschools to jump through

Yumna Allie, chairperson of the Grassy Park Early Childhood Development Forum

Preschools are more than places of safety and care for working parents and their children. Children receive vital early learning opportunities at preschools, and they are prepared for formal school through the early learning programmes.

These centres are established by private individuals at their own expense. Sadly, the majority of preschools in our community and the country at large are not registered with the local municipality, or, in our case, the City of Cape Town and not because the owners lack the will to be compliant but because the registration requirements are expensive and unrealistic and the process is far too complicated.

What does it take to register a home-based preschool?

It must be acknowledged that it is a huge sacrifice for our families to operate a preschool from our homes, but we are creating our own employment and employment for mostly women thereby contributing to the upliftment of civil society and to the economy.

First, we must apply at the Department of Social Development to start a preschool from our home. We must then apply at the City for consent, to use our residential property as a place of learning. This means we must apply for a land-use certificate.

We must resubmit building plans to show how the house will be used for the preschool. This could cost us about R2 500 to R7 000 for architect and scrutiny fees.

The City requires on-site parking bays even if our parents walk to the preschool. We must apply for departures if we want to bypass the parking-bay requirement. We need the neighbours’ consent to operate a preschool from our home. We must pay for the advertising costs in the local newspaper. This could cost R5 000 to R7 500.

Land-use applications for many preschool owners are sitting in the system at the City for a long time and in a few cases up to 15 to 20 years. Every few years, the application expires and then we must reapply, incurring more costs.

Understandably, we must meet stringent health and fire safety standards. The cost can range from R2 000 to R10 000 because we must pay private fire safety companies to help us with compliance.

The City does not offer this service to us even though we offer a much-needed service to the community because the government has failed to make provision for the education of young children.

After the land-use application is approved, the City health and fire inspectors come to check and give us a clearance certificate if we are compliant. This process is hardly quick and never easy.

When all this is approved, hefty development fees are charged by the City, to certify the building and the preschool. I have waited eight years to get to this final stage, and my development fee for a preschool of 45 children is R56 000.

With a land-use certificate, you qualify to be a registered preschool that qualifies for government funding. Again, there are strict, unreasonable conditions attached to receiving this subsidy. This is a discussion for another day.

After April 1 2022, we will no longer be managed by the Department of Social Development but by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED). Then we anticipate that the rules will change once more and as always never in our favour.

To the newly elected powers that be, there must be reform for the preschool sector. After years of struggle, we have had enough.

City spokesman Luthando Tyhalibongo responds: The City’s social development and early childhood development department is responsible for processing preschool applications to achieve compliance for registration with the provincial Department of Social Development. An online tool was launched in November 2020 to improve the turnaround time in the processing of applications.

NGOs can visit City social development area offices for assistance with compliance requirements and processing. Applicants are taken through a checklist and all documents are loaded onto the online system. This then flows to Development Management, Fire and Rescue Service and then to Environmental Health.

On October 29 last year, council approved exemption criteria to allow qualifying preschools to apply for the exemption of developmental charges. They must be registered NPOs and meet several criteria:

• Preschools hosting 34 children or less are automatically exempt from paying developmental charges.

• The property must be exclusively used for preschool purposes.

• All the profits from the use of the property must be used for the benefit of the institution and/or for charitable purposes only.

• All the activities on the property must contribute to the functions of the preschool only. The property may not be utilised for any other commercial activity.

• The property must comply with all the relevant health and safety regulations, and the necessary fire and health certificates must be attached to the application. It must also be properly zoned and a land-use zoning certificate must be attached to the application.

• The preschool must inform the City should it receive any subsidies from the provincial Department of Social Development. Financial statements must be attached to the application to ensure that the services rendered are not for profit.

In addition to the above, preschools must have a current tax-exemption certificate issued by the South African Revenue Services (SARS), a copy of which must be attached to the application; submit a developmental-charges application form together with all the required documents; be able to prove that the parents/guardians of the enrolled children have a joint income of less than R15 000.

Email ECD.SocialDevelopment@capetown.gov.za for more information or to apply.