Second wind for tornado schools

2012-04-07 15:23

It looks out of place in the rural village – squat, large and modern. A colleague remarks that from a distance it looks like a chicken factory.

But it is the pride of a village in the Mount Frere district in the Eastern Cape. This is the new Nomkolokoto Junior Secondary School.

On October 25 2009, a tornado blew the old school away. Since then, schooling has taken place in tents or in the open.

In 2010 pupils were forced to write their exams outside, sitting on whatever they could find. Some even lay on the ground, their scripts in the grass or on the bare earth.

School principal Monica Busiwe was a frustrated woman. Her pleas for help from the department of education seemed to go unheard.

Today, though, she stands proudly in her new school, which boasts 17 classrooms, a staff room, principal and deputy principal’s office, a clerk’s office and a storeroom.

The school has been constructed in such a way that assemblies can take place in the large undercover open area between the classrooms.

“We are very happy because what we needed was accommodation and shelter. I think now the culture of teaching and learning will be good. Every learner has been accommodated. They are learning freely and happily, and I am promising good results for Nomkolokoto.’’

The debris of the previous classrooms remains scattered outside, and there is still some work to be done on the new building.

Next to the brand-new toilet block stands the old corrugated iron shacks that house the long-drop toilets staff and pupils still have to use.

The new flushing toilets have seats that are too small so the toilets cannot be used.

There is still no electricity at the school – power comes from old solar panels that were erected some years ago. There is no water supply to the inside of the school either.

But Busiwe is optimistic: “All the remaining problems are small problems and we know they will be overcome.”

As we are taken on a tour of the new facilities, Ken Opperman, the architect involved with the project, arrives for an unannounced site inspection.

He says they were given R13 million for the school. Construction started in September last year and finished in February.

He admits there is still work to be done, but says the money allocated to the project is finished.
Busiwe says that the school has been tasked with sorting out the remaining problems.

“I thank City Press for writing the stories. I think it’s the story about the pupils writing their June exams in the veld that contributed (to a new school being commissioned). We are very lucky that it’s over.”

Collina Dlepu has been a teacher at the school for 23 years. When asked how she feels about the new school she is at a loss for words.

Dlepu bows her head and rubs her heart. ‘‘It’s a school now – not five tents.’’

Rwantsana Junior Secondary School
Two years ago, when City Press visited Rwantsana Junior Secondary School, the scene was desolate.
Pupils and teachers were sheltering under umbrellas, all trying not to pass out because of the relentless heat.

This week, the picture was completely different at Emacwerheni, near Mount Ayliff in the Eastern Cape. As the sun rose and the early morning mist evaporated, a brand new school building – still under construction – was revealed.

The school was wrecked by a tornado that hit the area in December 2009. Since then, lessons have taken place outside, and pupils and teachers have been at the mercy of the elements.

The Easter break has already started, so there are no pupils or teachers around.

Nearby, local resident Makhwenkwe Fatman and his grandson walk past the school on their way to look for their goats.

Fatman stops to chat. He is a member of the community board and his grandson, Wabonga, is a Grade 3 pupil at the school.

Fatman’s eyes light up when he talks about the new school. He is so happy – at least now the children will learn in proper classrooms.

Getting the new school involved a tough, uphill battle and there is still much work to be done before the building is complete. Delays have been caused by equipment and material having to come from Johannesburg.

The community also chased away the former principal, who was blamed for delaying construction of the new school.

For two years, Kholekile Mtati was the principal of a school that did not exist. He was in hospital with kidney failure when he got the news that the school had been destroyed by a tornado.

He returned and watched as lessons began in the open air.

He was there when, eventually, in March 2010, 13 tents and portable toilets were provided and a few months later when the contractor returned and removed them because the department of education had not paid for them.

Since City Press last spoke to him, he has been moved to a new school.

We offered to take him to visit the school, but Mtati declined. He said the community did not want him there. He has not seen the new Rwantsana.

Loyiso Pulumani, spokesperson for the Eastern Cape education department, says intervention at the schools, with the help of the national education department, has been a critical turning point.

The department has already awarded contracts to the value of more than R300 million for the new financial year for emergency school repairs and are expecting to have delivered about 900 classrooms by June, he says.

‘‘You’ve seen the schools. They are quite beautiful. Even the response from the communities has been quite amazing.’’

Siyambuza Gwaza, an Emacwerheni resident, agrees. He was a Rwantsana pupil before the school was relocated and destroyed by the tornado. His nephews now attend the school.

‘‘Mnandi kakhulu, mnandi kakhulu (Very nice, very nice),” he says.

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