Another high school poses serious danger to learners

2019-02-08 06:32
DA MPL Khume Ramulifho at the entrance of Hoërskool Roodepoort, where he was denied access.

DA MPL Khume Ramulifho at the entrance of Hoërskool Roodepoort, where he was denied access. (Twitter)

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Another school in Gauteng has been found to have structural damage that could pose serious danger to learners.

This information has come to light in the wake of the death of four children at Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark following a structural collapse on Friday.

On Friday morning, pupils at the school were heading to their classrooms after a morning assembly when the bridge suddenly collapsed.

Roydon Olckers, Jandré Steyn and Marli Currie died on the scene while 23 others were taken to hospital. At the weekend, another learner, Marnus Nagel, succumbed to his injuries while in hospital.

Now the South African Teachers' Union (SAOU) has warned that a similar tragedy may play out at Hoërskool Roodepoort on the West Rand.

The union issued a statement on Monday, shortly after the Hoërskool Driehoek tragedy, initially warning that eight classrooms at Hoërskool Roodepoort were non-operational due to "their extreme state of dilapidation".

Structural integrity 'far below acceptable standards'

"The structural integrity of the spaces is far below the acceptable standards set out in the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act 103 of 1997," the SAOU said.

According to the SAOU, the City of Johannesburg's Department of Development and Planning issued Hoërskool Roodepoort with a notice on June 26, 2007.

According to that notice, the school was already in contravention of the National Building and Building Standards Act 103 of 1997 and the school was ordered to rectify the problem.

The school's governing body (SGB) then contacted the Gauteng Department of Education's (GDE) department of infrastructure and development.

"From that date to the present, the matter has not been satisfactorily resolved despite the best efforts of the SGB," said SAOU director of operations, Johan Kruger.

According to Kruger, a report submitted by a professional engineering company employed by the SGB and based on a visual on-site evaluation revealed the following:

  • It was found that reinforced concrete slabs (classroom floors) had sagged by an average of 60mm to the middle of the room;
  • Cracks were clearly visible on the reinforced concrete slabs as well as the fixed ends of the brickwork; and
  • In terms of the relevant regulations and act, the reinforced concrete slabs failed acutely in deflection as well as structural integrity.

Eighteen classrooms now declared unsafe

This week, the SGB approached CFJ Consulting Engineers to conduct another assessment of the building to compare the current situation with previous results.

The SGB informed the SAOU on Tuesday that the situation had become even more critical.

"The latest engineers' report indicates that the floor slabs have deflected further and appear to continue to do so.

"New cracks on the surface of the floor slabs and the walls have formed, further undermining the integrity of the building. The engineer's report goes on to indicate that the rest of the structure should not be occupied or used – with immediate effect. In essence, the school now has 18 classes deemed structurally unsafe," Kruger said on Thursday.

The SAOU informed the office of Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi per letter, on Tuesday, of the new developments.

The Gauteng education department responded on Wednesday, stating that the school had received maintenance grants from the Department of Education, but that it had not used the grants for maintenance purposes.

According to Kruger, however, the school has evidence, in the form of their financial statements, that indicates that the money was indeed utilised for maintenance.

Kruger told News24 there was a difference in regular maintenance of a school and problems relating to the structural integrity of school buildings. The former lies with the SGB, while the latter lies with the department, as owner of the school property.

"The school has even used its own money, in addition to grants from the department, for maintenance at the school. It is, however, the department's responsibility to maintain and repair infrastructure."

DA education MPL denied access

Acting on complaints from parents, DA provincial legislature member and education spokesperson Khume Ramulifho attempted to visit Hoërskool Roodepoort on Wednesday to conduct an oversight visit but was denied access to the school.

Ramulifho told News24 when he and other officials arrived at the school, they were given a notice barring them from entering the school grounds. Ramulifho said they were informed that permission had to be obtained from Lesufi, who was out of the country this week.

School officials told Ramulifho that they had received "a directive" not to discuss the matter.

"The principal made a call in our presence to the regional director who then said we were not allowed to do an oversight.

"This is a new phenomenon to me," Ramulifho told News24. "We've been visiting schools throughout the province over the past 10 years and no one has ever stopped me.

"But this week, [since the Hoërskool Driehoek collapse], has been different. On Tuesday, I went to a school in Lenasia where I was also denied access."

Ramulifho has since received messages and pictures from "a number of schools" reporting similar structural damage and hazards. "You can see the infrastructure is falling apart. The schools are ageing and the infrastructure is deteriorating."

Ramulifho said he would be submitting formal questions in the legislature once Lesufi is back in South Africa. He said he was "surprised" as the MEC said the DA could visit any educational institution "at any time".

News24's calls to Gauteng education department spokesperson Steve Mabona were not answered.

However, according to The Citizen, the department has sent an internal structural engineer to assess the structure and make recommendations.

That publication reported that Mabona said the affected structures were not in use and the department was sourcing service providers to do repairs.

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