Kids still living in crummy conditions

2009-06-22 00:00

Last year we published a story exposing grim conditions in some city boarding houses. Not much has changed and as schools close this week some city children will be breathing a sigh of relief as they get to go home and escape temporarily their miserable term-time accommodation.

More than a year has passed since The Witness exposed the existence of illegal boarding houses accommodating school pupils, mostly from the Eastern Cape. Authorities responded, and living conditions have improved for some pupils, but others still suffer, housed in sometimes appalling circumstances.

Pupils interviewed by The Witness indicated that while some are happy with their accommodation, others still have the same complaints.

“Things have gone from bad to worse. The food is terrible — they are cooking for animals,” one pupil said. “There is no hot water, not enough bathrooms and toilets, we have problems with transport and there is nowhere to do homework.”

His parents pay R850 for him to board in a house with about 50 senior and junior boys.

Some pupils said the cost of transport from the Eastern Cape prevented their parents from coming with them, so they do not know about the conditions.

Basil Manuel, principal of Forest Hill Primary and chairman of the education union, Naptosa KZN, said: “From my contact with school principals and others in the education sector, I have no indication that boarding houses are any better regulated than they were when the story surfaced. Our original concerns remain. Chief of these is that senior and junior primary pupils are housed together, in the same rooms, sometimes the same beds, potentially putting younger children at risk of abuse by older ones. I do not believe that the matter has been fully addressed by the authorities at all.”

What the municipality says

ACCORDING to municipal spokesperson Ntobeko Ngcob­o, the Msunduzi Municipality has taken the issue “very seriously indeed” and formed “a special sub-committee of the Corporate Strategic Planning Committee to address it”. This multi-sectoral committee, the Management of Town Planning Violations Sub-committee, is addressing the problem of various types of illegal property use like boarding houses, scrap yards and taverns. It consists of representatives from the municipal departments involved: town planning, building survey, fire and rescue services and environmental health and the SAPS, plus the public safety department and provincial government representatives when appropriate.

Ngcobo said the authorities had adopted a strategy of “educate first, prosecute as a last resort” because in many cases, offenders were ignorant of the municipal bylaw­s they were breaking. “Our investigations have shown that in many cases boarding house owners were genuinely ignorant of the regulations. We have been gratified by the response of many owners who have co-operated with our staff in an effort to comply.”

However, the authorities have also identified several “chronic offenders” who, when their establishments have been closed down, open up again in other premises.

“These people are in it to make money. They do not have the children’s welfare at heart. They charge as much as R1 000 a month for pupils to stay in unacceptable living conditions and eat poor food.” Some have been prosecuted and paid admission of guilt fines, while others are in the process of being, or will be, prosecuted.”

New legislation, the Children’s Act 2005, which was implemented last year, requires registration of private boarding facilities as places of “partial care” and sets down basic requirements, such as hygiene, food preparation, health care, play space, sanitation and clean drinking water, etc. It also requires that they meet local municipal health, fire, safety, structural and other regulations.

These regulations allow a maximum of 14 children to be housed in a boarding establishment. However, some boarding establishments investigated by authorities accommodate as many as 80 children. The limit is reportedly designed to prevent large establishments from negatively affecting residential areas. But, according to Sizanani Boarding Association, a body formed by boarding house owners last year, 14 children is not a financially viable number if a boarding house is an owner’s only source of income.

Ngcobo appealed to the public for help in identifying cases of unauthorised use of property like boarding houses, scrap yards and taverns.

THE authorities have appealed to the public to help stamp out this problem by reporting illegal boarding houses to the municipal department of Town Planning at 033 392 2611 or 033 392 2135.

Boarding House Statistics

Seven closed down

Eight being prosecuted

Nine being monitored by the municipality

Seven applying for permission to operate

Three now registered

WHAT SCHOOL PRINCIPALS SAY

 

THE principal of a secondary school in Northdale said schools are “definitely still having problems” with boarding houses and identified parents as a key to the issue.

“The main thing they seem to want is a place with a ‘Christian ethic’. Many of the boarding house owners claim they run Christian places. They should check on other basic things too. They should be responsi­ble for their children.”

He said the lack of adult supervision in many boarding houses is a problem that spills over into disruptive and unacceptable behaviour in the school environment.

“In some of these places there are groups of teenage girls who are completely unsupervised. We get complaints from neighbours about the things that go on in some of these places.”

The principal of another school said a quarter of the school’s more than 1 000 pupils come from the Eastern Cape. Many are children of teachers and other government employees who reportedly sent their children to local schools because those in the Eastern Cape are overcrowded and badly run.

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