Creche kids teargassed

2019-04-30 15:25
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Seven children from a Copesville creche were caught in the crossfire as police and rioting pupils from Copesville Secondary School clashed on Monday.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the pupils, who were protesting having had no water and electricity for two weeks since the school was disconnected for non-payment of utility bills.

Seven preschoolers between the ages of four and five from a nearby creche had to be taken to a clinic after being exposed to tear gas and one Copesville Secondary pupil was treated for an injury to her foot, ER24 spokesperson Werner Vermaak said. Their condition is not known.

Copesville Secondary is reportedly R2 million in arrears and Msunduzi Municipality cut off its services.

During Monday’s protests, pupils stoned staff cars and blocked the school gates to prevent teachers from leaving.

When The Witness arrived at the scene on Monday morning, hundreds of pupils were milling around outside the school and dozens more rowdy pupils lined the long road down to the entrance.

One young girl said they were angry about the lack of water and electricity. “Matric students started protesting first then everyone joined in. We planned to shut the school down and stay here until 2 pm,” she said.

A teacher told The Witness that staff were locked inside the school during the protest.

“They were stoning cars and they blocked the school gates. We were being held hostage by the pupils,” she said.

The teacher said staff were only able to leave the school once police arrived.

“The school doesn’t have water and electricity, but we don’t know who is responsible for making sure it is paid,” she added.

While the public order police unit managed to disperse the crowd by yesterday afternoon, the officers remained at the scene to monitor the situation.

The school remains closed and pupils have been told they should only return on Friday.

The head of education in the area’s ward committee, Thamsanqa Mbeje, said the school was dysfunctional and had a poor pupil turnout for the past week. He added that the school’s hierarchy normally refused to engage with concerned members of the public.

He also told The Witness that the school has been having problems for a long time and that in 2017 he wrote Education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwana, and the portfolio committee to ask them to intervene.

“We presented to the portfolio committee these issues and told them it may not be tomorrow that there will be a problem, but the day will come,” he said.

Commenting on the R2 million owed by the school to Msunduzi, Mbeje said: “This is a no-fee school and gets a grant from the department. Where is that money going?

“This is a huge blow. Does the school have R2 million to settle this debt? It’s the only secondary school in this community and now pupils, including matrics, are made to stay at home while this is sorted out.”

Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha confirmed that the school owed R2 million for outstanding electricity and water bills.

Police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said a case of malicious damage to property had been opened.

Attempts to get comment from the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education were unsuccessful.

Copesville Secondary is no stranger to controversy. In 2011 knives, cigarettes and dagga were seized during a raid at the school.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  protest action
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