|2010 09 19 'Schools of shame' City Press|
By Melanie-Ann Feris
It is lunch time and the staff members of Sidanda Senior Primary School gather in a mud hut with a large hole in the roof. A teacher plays gospel music on her cellphone as pieces of sausage and slices of bread are passed around. Outside pupils queue for their feeding scheme lunch of pap and sauce. Two teachers need to relieve themselves. They walk to the nearby bushes and hitch up their skirts. A parent has come to see school principal Cecilia Mkundlu. The hut also serves as her office. The school was established in 1965. It has always been a mud hut. Mkundlu joined the school as a teacher in 1996. ‘‘I had hope that it would change. I didn't know that it would be like this until now,'' she says. Nearby is Thembeni Senior Primary School.
Our GPS leads us to an open field with a small mud structure. Surely this can't be the school? Then we hear the drone of pupils following a teacher as she recites a lesson. ‘‘For 17 years the school has been like this. At one time I taught under that tree,'' grade 3 teacher Nocwaka Nongalo says. The rest of the school is housed a few kilometres away. Staff had held a concert a few years ago to collect money to build a permanent structure. Teachers pitched in with the work. ‘‘It was a tough job. We had to stop teaching and make bricks. It took us more than a year to finish,'' says teacher Ntombodumo Jiba. The schools are part of a group of seven that are suing the Eastern Cape Department of Education, the national government and the OR Tambo district municipality to provide them with proper resources. In their founding affidavit, the applicants state that the schools provide little or no protection from the elements for learners. All of them lack access to adequate water. The affidavit states that speeches and policy documents by the provincial and national departments make it clear that these conditions are unacceptable. But there are no plans to remedy the situation. Cameron McConnachie from the Legal Resources Centre, the attorneys for the applicants, says: ‘‘The right to education in terms of infrastructure has not been tested by court. (We don't know) whether the right to education includes a desk, chair, safe building and potable water. ‘‘We hope the court says it does include that. That would be a significant step in the right direction. It would give some content to the right to education and clarify the state's obligation.'' Granville Whittle, chief director of communications in the Department of Basic Education, was unable to say whether they would oppose the application.
The Eastern Cape Department of Education did not return City Press's calls. The school that doesn't exist. Kholekile Mtati is the principal of a school that doesn't exist. Rwantsana Junior Secondary School was blown away by a tornado in December last year. Since then lessons have been taking place outdoors. In February, City Press visited the school and Mtati says the subsequent story about the dire straits it was in prompted Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to send a senior official to the school. In March things started looking up - 13 tents and portable toilets were provided to the school. The department also provided new desks, but most of them are still unused as there is nowhere to put them. The rest are stored at the local shop a few kilometres away from the school. Shortly after the World Cup the contractor returned and started taking the tents down. The department had not paid for them, Mtati was told. Dozens of steel pegs which had held the tents in place now stick out all over the schoolground - each one a lethal weapon. ‘‘We don't want to be like people who are lazy but when you think about the situation you become .?.?. I don't know,'' he shrugs. The wind starts picking up. A small girl reels back in horror as the heavy blackboard her teacher is writing on falls onto her desk. Teachers and pupils scurry about trying to hold the blackboards in place. A teacher valiantly tries to continue the lesson. She soon realises that it's futile. A group of pupils are corralled in by their desks and hold on to each other. They laugh nervously. A girl bursts into tears. Her friend takes her hand and they walk out of the school gate. Mtati stands with his hands folded behind his back, staring out over the mess that has become his school: ‘‘This is the situation we find ourselves in,'' he mumbles softly and continuously to himself as pupils pack up their books. Class is clearly over for today. Studying here is no carnival. From a distance it looks like a carnival - bright red, white and blue-striped tents fluttering in the wind. The tents serve as classrooms for the pupils of Nomkolokoto Junior Secondary School in the Mount Frere district in the Eastern Cape. After the school was destroyed by a tornado on October 25 last year, four tents were sent to accommodate the pupils. The tents were dark and offered no relief from the relentless heat. In February when City Press visited the school pupils crowded to overflowing in the tents. Because of the stifling heat many suffered nose bleeds and fainting spells. A student was injured when one of the tent poles smashed onto her head. Heavy winds eventually blew the tents down.
The new tents are lighter but there are already tears in the canvas. School principal Monica Basiwe said: "It's summer now. The rains are coming". In June pupils had to write their exams outside, perched on whatever they could find. Some were even forced to lie in the grass, their scripts pressed to the earth. ‘‘We keep on phoning the department, sometimes the phone just rings or they tell us ‘Nomkolokoto we a working on the problem','' said Basiwe. One thing that Basiwe was happy about, however, was that a tap with clean running water had been provided on the school premises.
Pupils now no longer have to walk long distances to find water. ‘‘Finally we have water, we can plant a garden for the pupils. We were also promised toilets but there are still no toilets," she lamented.
Basiwe said the school governing body and members of the community had collected money to fix the roof over parts of the school structure that still remained after the tornado. "But we were not encouraged to do so (by the department) because the structure is not sound," she said. ‘‘How will these children get a quality education?''
- City Press