South Africa: Water and Electricity Cut Because School Can't Pay Bills, Teaching Stops

Principal says he has written 15 letters to education department about water leaks

Learners at Copesville secondary school in Pietermaritzburg have missed classes for a month because the Msunduzi municipality cut off water and electricity to the school which owed R2 million for these services. The school principal says he alerted the education department to water leaks at the school years ago but nothing has been done.

Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha confirmed that the school owed the municipality R2 million for water and electricity.

On Monday 29 April learners locked teachers inside the school premises while they protested outside the school, demanding that electricity and water be restored. Learners say they have been coming to school to sit in classrooms, play soccer and eat.

"After that the teachers would tell us to go home," said a grade 12 learner. He said the matriculants especially had been affected by the situation. Some learners were not coming to school at all.

"We were not studying at all. All the grade 12 learners are late with their subjects. The teachers only came to sit inside the office. They were doing nothing. After some time they would come to class. They told us to go home. For the matric class the damage is huge," said the learner.

Another grade 12 learner said he was worried about catching up.

"We should be writing tests. Those tests are important. We have wasted so much time doing nothing. It is important that we pass. Some of us have big future plans," said another learner.

During a parents' meeting on 29 April, school principal Themba Xulu told parents that the school had been without water since 29 March. Xulu said the debt had accumulated because water pipes had burst in 2001. He said he has written to the education department about the leaks but there had been no response.

"On 2 April I told the teachers and the management that the municipality had disconnected water and electricity. We all agreed on paying R10,000 to the municipality. We made the payment on the same day. The services were not restored. The payment was not enough. The municipality refused to reconnect the services. I tried to report the matter to the department but I failed. I could not get anyone from the department. I waited for days without any assistance. In that same week I called a parents' meeting. I told them what was going on," said Xulu.

"The school was opened on 18 April 2001. On 19 April 2001, there were already leaks caused by burst pipes. I have more than 15 letters that I have written to the department. They have never done anything to assist," he said.

Department of Education spokesperson Sihle Mlotshwa said: "As we speak now electricity and water has been restored and teaching and learning has begun. We have made arrangements with the municipality to pay for the services."

He did not explain why the department had not responded earlier to Xulu's complaints.

Mafumbatha confirmed that arrangements had been made between the municipality and the Department of Education for payment of the arrears.

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