Appalling DOE offices

2015-03-16 00:00

BROKEN windows, leaking ceilings, rats scurrying around, insufficient lights and broken toilets — this is the sight that greets employees each day at a government building in Pietermaritzburg.

Staff at the Department of Education’s (DOE) Camperdown Circuit Office have complained about the “appalling” condition of the premises, saying they cannot do any work because of the lack of facilities and maintenance.

The Witness has discovered that the building does not conform to national building regulations.

A member of staff employed by the department who is stationed at the offices at 151 Mayor’s Walk, admitted they clock in to work every morning and do nothing the entire day because of the appalling state the premises are in.

The staff member, who asked not to be named due to fear of victimisation, said the entire second floor of the double-storey building had to be evacuated because of flooding.

Up to 20 employees work in the building and meetings are held there once or twice every few months.

“We can’t use our computers because sometimes there is no electricity. We can’t use the toilets because they are so filthy and don’t work. We seldom even stay at the office. We just go home and nobody cares,” the member of staff said.

The Witness visited the building recently to find a dilapidated structure with overgrown shrubs and hedges along its boundaries.

From the outside, rusted gutters and water pipes line the walls and several windows hang off the sides of the building, held clumsily in place by a broken hinge.

From the inside, it was noted that all those windows are either jammed shut, jammed open or are non-existent — with a handwritten note cautioning people not to try and use them.

Tattered blinds, ripped by the wind, are all that are left to keep the sun out.

More than a dozen large holes can be seen in the ceilings both upstairs and downstairs, resulting in extensive water damage to the paintwork on the walls.

Puddles of water could still be spotted where rain water had entered through the roof and collected on the floors of some offices, leaving a musty stench lingering through the entire building.

Most of the doors in the buildings have no locks and only one of the six toilet facilities, three upstairs and three downstairs, has running water and usable toilets.

Both male and female employees are expected to use this one facility.

There is electricity in the building but only one light actually works in the corridor downstairs.

According to another staff member, at night the building looks like “something out of a horror movie”.

“The only light you get is from a car passing by, otherwise it is completely dark. You can hear the blinds flapping in the wind because there aren’t any windows. The doors creak because they cannot lock and it seems like someone else is there. It really gets scary.”

The reporter saw three rats foraging in the dark corners in a room on the lower floor where a large stack of textbooks were dumped.

In the middle of all the destruction, one office was newly renovated with brand new desks and chairs, carpets and a new coat of paint.

This is allegedly where meetings are held.

DOE spokesperson Sihle Mlotshwa said they have reported the appalling conditions to the Department of Public Works and are awaiting an assessment study on the building.

In addition, spokesperson for the office of the MEC for Human Settlements and Public Works Mbulelo Baloyi said for any major repair works to be undertaken by Public Works, the respective client department (in this instance Education) has to make funds available from their infrastructure and maintenance budget so that Public Works can invite suitable service providers to carry out the work.

“Some sections of this building, because of ageing, do not conform to the national building regulation hence the need to effect the necessary renovation work so that it conforms to the said regulations,” Baloyi admitted.

According to a qualified civil engineer, who asked not to be named, the building does not comply with national building regulations.

The engineer, who was shown images of the site, said the building fails on the following notes:

• the ceilings should be reasonably waterproofed and any damage to ceiling structures compromises the health and safety of workers.

• the minimum requirement for ablution facilities is one toilet for 15 females, one for 15 males and one for disabled workers. All these facilities should be separated.

• a building should facilitate the disabled. No wheelchair ramps are present alongside the stairs and the toilets do not have rails.

• each window should have an opening of five percent of the total floor space of the room, and if no windows are present or in this case permanently shut, air-conditioning or any other form of mechanical ventilation is required.

DA Shadow Minister of Basic Education Annette Lovemore said she would strongly suggest reporting these conditions to the Department of Labour’s Occupational Health and Safety Division.

“This certainly sounds like an inappropriate environment,” she said. “We don’t need luxury, by any means, but, if officials are to be able to focus their efforts on improving our children’s education, they need an environment that is conducive to their functioning.”

The IFP KZN spokesperson on Education, Thembeni KaMadlopha-Mthethwa, applauded the officials in the DOE’s Camperdown Circuit Offices for raising their frustration over the poor state of the building used as their offices.

“We demand that MEC Peggy Nkonyeni must urgently intervene and ensure that the complaints are attended to without any further delay,” she said.

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