SA at work: From mud to marvellous

2014-02-02 14:00

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Learners get a bright start to their school days.

Aluncedo Sipulani (12) is excited about reading.

It’s easy to see why.

His new school, Mpakanyiswa Senior Primary in Libode in the Eastern Cape, has a beautiful library that’s well stocked with books for Aluncedo and his classmates.

Aluncedo wants to be a doctor.

Until last year, the youngster, who is now in Grade 5, studied in a mud structure that had no furniture, let alone a library, books, computers or a science laboratory.

“I have touched a computer for the first time in my life.

We have books and a library. We can borrow books to take home and read during our spare time,” says the excited pupil.

Mpakanyiswa Senior Primary School was opened by President Jacob Zuma in October 2012 and is one of the basic education department’s Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (Asidi) schools.

Libode has the dubious honour of being home to most of South Africa’s mud schools.

Slowly but surely, that’s changing?–?49 new Asidi schools have been built in the province since 2011.

Aluncedo is now more excited about his future prospects and his daily routine.

He is more eager to come to school than ever before.

“I want to be a doctor so that I can heal people and support my family,” he says.

“There is not a day I want to miss at school. There are so many things to do here. I love my school, it’s beautiful. There are playing facilities, our toilets are clean and the school is neat and safe.”

Principal Phathiwe Welembe still remembers clearly what the old school, built by the community in 1988, was like.

“This school was a mess. We only had three rondavels and two flats, all of which were mud structures. It was a health hazard for us teachers and a danger to these children.”

She’s not exaggerating. The mud structure was falling apart.

When it rained, water would get in through the roof and the floors would be drenched. Under these unpleasant circumstances, pupils were often sent home when it rained or it was cold?– that’s if they bothered to come to school in the first place.

There were no toilets. Pupils and teachers used bushes around the school to relieve themselves.

The school had no electricity nor water for its 300 pupils.

Welembe says: “But now we are proud because we have a state-of-the-art facility with equipment these kids could only dream of. This is a wonderful opportunity, we are happy for these kids and our job has also been made easier.”

Mpakanyiswa has eight classrooms for grades R to 6, a multimedia room, science and computer labs?–?the latter equipped with 27 laptops?–?a multipurpose room and the library Aluncedo likes so much.

There is also a well-equipped crèche for the little ones and an administration block.

The pride in Mpakanyiswa stretches further than its gates.

School governing body chairperson Mthulana Raxoti glows when talking about it.

“We are very proud of the facility. The community loves the school and so do the kids and teachers. Everybody is happy,” says Raxoti.

“The classes are big. It’s a unique school?–?we are pleased.”

Nearby, Welese Junior Secondary School was built in 1988 and was made of mud.

But the days of Welese’s 400 pupils carrying dried cow dung to school to clean classrooms are a thing of the past.

Principal Deliwe Mhlobo took City Press on a tour of the facility which, as an Asidi school, looks very similar to Mpakanyiswa.

“We could not have asked for a better school. Everyone is happy. The attendance has vastly improved due to this beautiful facility,” says Mhlobo.

Construction started in February 2012 and was completed by the end of 2013.

The school was handed over to the community by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga last April.

Nwabisa Mkhentane (15) is in Grade 7 at Welese and loves the new building.

“We have been blessed. For years we learnt in mud structures where anything could have happened because the structures were not well built and were dangerous. We are glad to have lived to see the new classrooms.”

Welese had no furniture in its old buildings, so pupils used to bring their own chairs from home. Dust constantly swirled through the classrooms and many teachers fell ill.

There were toilets?–?also housed in mud structures?–?but these were mainly used by teachers while pupils used the bushes.

“At least now we can concentrate on learning and not worry about other things. We have a beautiful school with labs and a library. What is left is for us to work hard and pass,” says Nwabisa.

The construction of the new schools also benefited residents.

Zola Velembo (36) was employed at Mpakanyiswa as a general worker for seven months while it was under construction in 2012.

“I could provide for my family during that time. I also got a lot of experience which will help me to look for a job. This project changed my life. I managed to pay lobolo,” he says.

“But mostly I was very proud to have been part of a team building a school for our community for future generations.”

Sabelo Dumani, a 49-year-old father of three, worked at Welese as a liaison officer.

“I gained lots of experience and supported my family. I bought furniture and sent my kids to school.

“I have learnt a lot about leadership,” says Dumani.

And the Asidi schools keep opening.

On January 16, President Zuma opened Ngidini Primary School in Libode not far from the site of the two mud schools that were demolished.

At Ngidini’s opening, Zuma said 44 of the targeted 49 schools had been built and given to communities as part of the government’s campaign to hand over a school each week through the Asidi programme.

Provincial education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said that by 2015, the department hopes to finish 498 schools through the Asidi programme in the province.

“As an education department we said, it can’t be that government took such a short space of time to build stadiums for the 2010 soccer World Cup.

“We said government should intervene and start building proper schools with the same eagerness. That’s what is happening here through Asidi,” Mtima says.

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