South Africa: This School for Children With Special Needs Was Stripped Bare By Looters. Now the Learners Won't Even Get Meals

Golden Steps school in KwaZulu-Natal will not be able to re-open after the break

At least 130 schools in KwaZulu-Natal were looted and vandalised during last week's unrest.

Among the schools that lost everything was Golden Steps special needs school in Verulam, north of Durban.

The school was completely ransacked, with looters taking everything from food and appliances to specialised computers and TVs designed to assist children with disabilities.

The principal says over 90% of learners came from very poor homes and relied on the hot meals they got at school. This is no longer possible.

"They took everything. All of the food, dishes, televisions and computers that were donated to the school were all stolen," says a tearful Anesh Singh.

He is the head of Golden Steps public school for children with intellectual and physical disabilities in Verulam, north of Durban. The school was among 130 educational facilities in the province that were vandalised and looted last week.

Singh told GroundUp that the school's 217 learners enrolled for 2021 would have nowhere to go should schools reopen next week. He said most of the learners come from very poor households and often rely on the school for hot meals and transport daily. This is no longer possible because all of the school's sponsored appliances and food were ransacked.

Expensive computers with software to assist non-verbal learners are also gone. "There were two brand new TVs still in boxes that I recently acquired from Samsung for our learners, worth over R45,000 each, that are gone.

The school recently received a new bus from the Department of Education which was vandalised as well as other buses on the premises. "The fuel was extracted and parts of the bus were stolen and damaged," he said. "It is a very emotional time for the staff and learners as the unrest has crippled the culture of learning and teaching at our school."

Singh, who spoke proudly of his school and its accolades, said that Golden Steps has been an integral part of the community. "Some community members are going in search of the looted items because the people who did this are thugs and they deserve to be arrested. Why steal from a school that helps the community? We would greatly appreciate any form of assistance," said Singh.

On Tuesday afternoon, Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu visited Bavumile Primary School and Mzwamandla Secondary Schools in Umlazi District to assess the damage caused by the unrest.

Equal Education (EE) has condemned the destruction of schools. "We plead with the community, parents and religious leaders to try by all means to protect schools in this difficult time," said EE in a statement.

"The destruction comes at a time when schools are preparing to safely reopen their gates to learners in a few days after the July school holiday was extended to curb the spread of Covid-19 during the third wave. Many learners will be left stranded and this will [deepen] the inequalities highlighted by the pandemic," said EE.

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