Angry parents shut down Cape Town 'death trap' school

2017-02-13 19:19
Staff have to use buckets to flush the pupils' toilets at Kwafaku Primary. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Staff have to use buckets to flush the pupils' toilets at Kwafaku Primary. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

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Cape Town - A Cape Town school, where staff members are forced to use buckets to flush the toilets and where lights remain turned off due to fears of electrocution, has been shut down by livid parents who say their children are being taught in a death trap.  

Kwafaku Primary in Lower Crossroads was built in 2000 and is an experimental project, as the building is made out of Styrofoam and concrete.

But the building had deteriorated to such a state that dozens of parents denied the 1 212 pupils access to the school out of fear that the classrooms could collapse.

Principal Maureen Figlan was unable to reason with the irate parents on Monday.

They insisted that they would only speak to department officials, who they felt owed them an explanation.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has said a new school would be constructed in 2019.

Figlan said both the WCED and the provincial Department of Public Works had been informed of drainage, piping and roofing faults since its first year, and that they had warned officials that the building would only be able to last for an estimated 10 years.

"Over the last 16 years, the school has been becoming worse by the day. In 2008, our roof even blew away," she said from a camping chair outside the locked school gate.

'Children in danger'

The building has no ventilation and the classrooms are dusty, resulting in her staff being booked off for a range of illnesses and operations.

"If this is the effect on the adults, how much worse must it not be for our 7-year-olds?" she asked.

On a tour of the school on Monday, parents pointed out that leaking ceilings had resulted in most of the rooms in the building being without electricity to safeguard against electrocution.

Pipes in the pupils’ bathrooms are damaged and streams of water run onto the cement floors.

Buckets are used to flush the toilets after break times. The cisterns have been out of working order for as long as anyone can remember.

A windowless store room is being used by the school’s heads of department as one of the two offices available is too derelict from which to operate.

Kwafaku Primary in Lower Crossroads. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

One classroom has been out of use since 2001 due to safety concerns, Figlan said.

Community leader Albert Dlala said the school was on the brink of collapse and the community intervention was a bid to stop "another TB Joshua tragedy" from happening, referring to a church building collapse in Lagos in which more than a hundred people were killed.

"We simply cannot allow our children to study here. They are in danger," he insisted.

"We can’t stand on the side-lines and wait for our kids to be buried inside here."

'Children’s lives don't matter'

The lack of ventilation meant hot pupils had to wet their shirts in order to cool down, as the temperature climbed in the classrooms, Dlala said.

Teachers, in turn, had to teach from the doorway because being inside the classroom was "unbearable".

"If we send our children in here, we are sending them to their graves," he argued.

"We closed the gates to protect them. In our view, our children’s lives don't matter to [the education department]."

Figlan and Dlala confirmed that the two departments had committed to putting up temporary classrooms on the school site by October to allow for the demolition of the current building.

Kwafaku Primary in Lower Crossroads. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Figlan said officials had promised this would happen by January, at the latest.

"But it’s the middle of February already. I understand the parents’ frustration. I feel the same way."

Dlala said parents and teachers had marched to the WCED offices in 2009 and 2016. On both occasions, officials had promised to rebuild the school.

"They can’t say they are unaware of what is happening here. We have told them," he insisted.

Construction date

Parent Bonisile Ntlola said he had two children who attended Kwafuka Primary.

"The state of the school is worrying me. When my kids come here, I know anything can happen. Their education is important to me, but where they are being taught is a concern. We can’t allow this to go on."

But according to the WCED, construction of the school was expected to start in 2019.

KwaFaku Primary had been included in the department’s budget for replacement, spokesperson Millicent Merton said.

"School infrastructure is a priority for the Western Cape government, as we seek to keep up with the growing demand for schooling in the province, as well as replace buildings that were built with inappropriate materials. However, infrastructure delivery is subject to available budget."

Dlala warned that the school gates would remain closed until parents had been addressed by the department.

"We want them to come here and tell us what is happening, especially after the promises were made. Must this dangerous situation continue until 2019?"

Read more on:    cape town  |  education

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