City pulls plug on school

2019-10-15 16:32
A file image of a young Zimbabwean boy doing his homework under a candle light in Harare. (Jekesai Njikizana/AFP)

A file image of a young Zimbabwean boy doing his homework under a candle light in Harare. (Jekesai Njikizana/AFP)

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Haythorne Secondary School’s boarders spent the weekend in darkness and could not study or even iron their uniforms after the school’s electricity was disconnected by Msunduzi Municipality.

This is despite the provincial Education Department saying it has had discussions with municipalities not to disconnect electricity and water to schools before the upcoming examinations.

Haythorne has an outstanding balance of about R726 000 for water and electricity.

Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha confirmed that the school owed the municipality for water and electricity.

“A payment arrangement was made and the school defaulted, hence the disconnection of supply.”

Mafumbatha said a notice was issued advising the school to pay to avoid a disconnection.

“This notice was unfortunately not adhered to,” she said.

“Intimidating” municipal workers apparently disconnected Haythorne’s power supply last Friday leaving 34 boarders to bath in cold water.

Haythorne is a Section 21 school which provides boarding for pupils.

The school receives funding from the department and is responsible for procuring stationery, textbooks, paying water and lights accounts and undertaking their own maintenance with school fees and fundraising initiatives.

“This is ridiculous,” said a source in the school community, who asked to remain unnamed.

“Without electricity the school is unable to provide meals for the children. The place was in pitch blackness and anything could have happened. This is a violation of the children’s rights.”

The source said teachers were not happy about the situation, citing concerns about the pupils not being able to study in the evening

“These children were not able to study at the weekend and they have their matric examination coming up. The pupils in the hostel refused to come to school today [Monday] because they haven’t had a proper bath.”

The source said while they acknowledged that the school account is in arrears, no prior notification was given that the electricity would be disconnected. “We have matric exams starting on Wednesday.

“The matriculants are writing computer applications technology, you can’t write a computer exam without electricity.

“How do you provide a child with an education when there is no electricity? Why cut off the electricity when it’s going to jeopardise the exams?” said the source.

Haythorne Secondary School is classified as a quintile 5 school and receives fees from parents and minimal state funding. Quintile 5 schools receive a R228 subsidy from the state for each pupil per annum.

The Witness learnt that Haythorne only received about R90 000 in funding from government, which had to cover water and lights, security and also buy stationery.

“What is not considered is that 100% of our children are from disadvantaged communities. They [pupils] can’t afford to pay school fees and the department doesn’t assist. We are lucky if we even collect R40 000 a month in school fees.”

“How do we make the commitment to pay R130 000 when we collect so little. This is a perpetual problem and next month we’ll get cut off again. No one cares that the pupils have their exams coming up,” the source said.

While Haythorne paid R150 000 to the municipality on Monday, the school is expected to pay an additional R269 000 at the end of November.

The source said the situation at the school was so dire that the principal had to buy gas stoves with his own money to ensure that pupils did not go to bed hungry.

“The school has just spent about R26 000 on meat for the month. All that meat was in the deep freezer and it may be spoiled because of the extreme heat on Saturday.”

Provincial education spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said: “We are engaged in discussions with municipalities and are mapping out how to pay within a short time.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  msunduzi municipality
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