School walk of danger

2013-01-17 00:00

PUPILS at Ekhamanzi CP School at Khamanzi Mission near Greytown face danger every day.

They risk being swept away by the Khamanzi River, which they cross on their way to and from school.

The river does not have a bridge, so the children have to take off their shoes — and sometimes their clothes — and wade across. In the rainy season, the water sometimes rises up to their necks.

The children have to walk through dense bush and climb a steep, rocky mountain that is completely out of sight from their homes nearby.

At least 200 of the 500 pupils, some as young as six, confront these obstacles on a daily basis.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, on their first day back at school yesterday, they found that storms during the holidays had left at least five classrooms roofless and the Grade 1 prefab and administration block damaged.

The acting deputy principal, Thembi Mtolo, said they had to accommodate all their pupils in the available classrooms and had moved the Grade 1 pupils to a nearby crèche.

Witness reporters visited the school yesterday afternoon and accompanied the children on their way home.

To cross the river, which was not in spate, the children removed their shoes and threw them and their bags across the water.

Girls held up their school dresses and cautiously negotiated the current. The water came above their knees.

The older children carried the little ones across.

Sphesihle Mdunge (13), a Grade 4 pupil, said they were getting used to the danger.

“Every time we go to school, we have to take off our clothes and cross; sometimes our shoes and trousers get swept away. Even some children almost got swept away.”

Community member Sizwe Sithole showed photos of children crossing at a different point, with water up to their necks and carrying their clothes on their heads.

“It’s a miracle that no children have yet been swept away by the river.

“We know of one child who stopped schooling altogether after getting injured trying to cross. These children take risks crossing the river without any swimming skills,” said Sithole.

Parents said they were concerned. Andreas Mhlanzi said he had three children at the school who had complained about having to ford the river.

Community leader Hilliot Zondi spoke of the danger of the thick bush the children have to walk through, and he fears they could be attacked.

Zondi said the community had appealed for a proper road to be built to the school, but a land owner had allegedly refused to allow building on her property.

School principal Bongani Ngubane said: “During rainy days attendance is affected.”

He said that last year the school had more than 500 students and he feared the number would drop as many pupils transferred to other schools.

Ngubane said he had asked the Education Department for transport, and was still waiting for a response.

Local councillor Maphindi Zondi said she had been made aware of the situation.

“That area is actually an emergency … I did speak to our technical services manager late last year about the matter and we will be attending to it soon.”

Kwanele Ncalane of the Transport Department said the MEC would send a delegation to find out what could be done to help.

Asked about the dangers the children of Ekhamanzi face, MEC Mchunu said: “There are many such schools in the province.

“Our duty is to negotiate with the Department of Transport … and they [the department] also work with budgets.”

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