Long wait for new school

2010-10-12 00:00

FIVE years after being promised a decent school, pupils at Umsilinga Primary in Swapo C area near Copesville are still crammed into prefabs and flimsy mud houses they use for classrooms.

Parents say the conditions are dire and not conducive to learning.

Former KwaZulu-Natal premier and current Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele visited the area in 2005 after storms destroyed two neighbouring primary schools, Umsilinga and Greenkop.

He promised to build a school as a matter of urgency so children would not have to learn under trees.

But for this to happen the schools, which were literally fences apart, had to merge so that one school could be built. The schools have since done this, uniting under the name of Umsilinga Primary.

However, five years on, not a single classroom has come out of that promise.

But this time it has nothing to do with the Education Department’s tardiness.

The land that the school occupies is owned by a local businessman.

The KZN Education Department asked Msunduzi Municipality to buy the land so that it could then buy it from the council.

The Witness understands that the businessman’s price was originally too steep and this held up construction.

This led to a decision by the municipality in October last year to expropriate the land.

Brian Zuma, the municipality’s spokesperson, said part of the land is required for the school, but the larger portion will be used for a housing development.

“We are planning to acquire the whole plot and [the Education Department] will then purchase the section for the school from council,” he said.

Zuma added that the seller has since been approached and he has reduced his asking price to a reasonable value. But the council, whose finances are precarious, has approached Afrisam, a major black-controlled construction materials group, which has agreed to fund the purchase.

He said council will be asked to revoke the decision to expropriate the land and replace that with a resolution to acquire by private treaty.

Education Department spokesperson Mbali Thusi said planning processes are already in place. The department is awaiting the final decision from the municipality.

“We have designs and drawings in place but … we could not build on privately owned land.”

Ray Mabena, a parent and chairperson of the school’s governing body, said he cannot understand what is prolonging the building of the school.

The school has 1 200 pupils who are taught in 23 prefabs provided by the department over the years. Up to 60 children were squashed into these classrooms before parents built mud structures to alleviate the burden.

While the parent community has plastered the cracks in the classroom walls from time to time, teachers are worried that on windy days the children may be hurt if the corrugated iron roof collapses.

Mabena said that with the school’s current condition, it stands to lose dedicated teachers.

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