11 May 2017

South Africa: What Does It Take to Get the Eastern Cape Department of Education to Fix a School?

Nearly three years later, a school damaged in a storm remains broken

In 2014 a strong storm at Zanokhanyo Junior Secondary School in Butterworth damaged classrooms. The former school principal reported the matter to the district office, whose staff promised a new school. However three years later no classrooms have been replaced.

The new school principal, Mveleli Ncwadi, who started in 2015, said he has also contacted the district office several times seeking answers with no luck.

This school is made of ten prefab and two brick classrooms with 268 learners from grade R to grade nine. All the prefab classrooms have broken windows. No classrooms have electricity, though the staffroom, recently built with funds from the Motsepe Foundation, does have electricity.

Learners and teachers use pit toilets. None of the learners' toilets have doors, and the teachers' toilets have broken doors. Anyone can see you while you are inside the toilet.

Ncwadi said it has been empty promise after empty promise from the Eastern Cape Department of Education.

When GroundUp visited the school a week ago, along with Equal Education, learners complained about the cold because of the broken windows. Ncwadi said after a long wait for the department they decided to use some school funds to patch the broken walls. However there is not enough money to fix all the classrooms.

Now with the expected rainy and windy weather of winter, the school staff and learners fear losing more classrooms. "We are doing what we can but it will never be enough until the department comes with a better solution. For instance now we are trying to fix only walls. Then we will remain with broken windows," said Ncwadi.

Grade eight learner Viwe Ngxola, who sits next to a broken door, said that when it is cold she wishes not to come to school but she forces herself. Ngxola does not only sit next to a broken door; there's a hole in the wall next to her desk.

Department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima confirmed that the school reported the incident. However he said that it was reported to the circuit office not the district one. He said after receiving questions from GroundUp he contacted the district to investigate the matter. "As we speak the Infrastructure and Disaster Department are looking into this matter," he said.

However Ncwadi said he reported the matter to the district office, since there's no circuit office in Butterworth and he has not received any call from the Infrastructure Department.

Last month Equal Education called upon the department to build proper schools in the Eastern Cape. A report titled Planning to Fail by Equal Education said that a principal has to report a disaster to the district director. The district director must then report it to the provincial infrastructure unit, which will send an implementation agent to assess the situation. Funds are then allocated to the implementation agent. The report criticises the government for fixing infrastructure damaged in disasters too slowly.

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