Education is blowing in the wind

2017-10-22 06:00
Governing body chairperson Enoch Gumede points out defects in classrooms. Picture: Msindisi Fengu

Governing body chairperson Enoch Gumede points out defects in classrooms. Picture: Msindisi Fengu

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Children risk their lives for an education in schools that crumble around them.

High school pupils in Zola North, Soweto, pray for better weather conditions every day, fearing that storms could disrupt exams by collapsing the unstable walls and rooftops of their school.

Kwadedangendlale Secondary School is one of Soweto’s top for matric performance in the province, and yet it is listed among hundreds of schools in the country that need to be rebuilt or fixed.

The school’s walls sway forwards and backwards dangerously and portions of its roof have been swept away by winds.

This is despite the department of basic education’s admission to Parliament that it has hugely underspent for such projects.

Earlier this month, the department presented to the parliamentary portfolio committee on basic education after Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu found that it underspent by R878m on a programme responsible for building and rehabilitating schools in the 2016/17 financial year.

The Gauteng department of education and department of basic education did not respond to City Press by the time of going to print.

Thando Ndimande, a Grade 10 pupil at the school, described to City Press how they lived in fear that the walls would collapse and crush them.

“Our parents may just as well be organising funerals for us in case that unfortunate day comes,” he quipped, adding they eagerly awaited the end of their examinations so they could stop coming to school.

Nokuthula Ntombela, a parent at the school, told City Press that her 14-year-old daughter Wandile, who is in Grade 8, was injured just last week when strong winds ripped a corrugated sheet off the roof. At the time, Wandile and others were gathered in the assembly for a morning prayer. She lost two days of school nursing her back pain, but her injuries could have been much worse.

“She is the only child I have ... and schools are supposed to be safe spaces. I’m worried what will happen next,” Ntombela lamented.

Patiently waiting

Teachers at the school, located in Zola North and built in 1994, told City Press that they had been patiently waiting for their school to be fixed or rebuilt. Parents were told by engineers hired by the Gauteng education department in August that it would cost R28m to fix their school. That was the fourth engineers’ report since the school raised concerns over crumbling classrooms with authorities in 2013.

In 2014 the school received eight prefabricated classrooms. Three years later, some of them have holes in the floor with electricity wires visibly hanging. A teacher was also injured when her foot accidentally fell into a hole in one of these classrooms. Her hand was broken as she fell, City Press was told.

Willie Mabaso, the chairperson of the school’s maintenance committee, said the structural defects were “life-threatening”.

“We’ve tried to fix some of the damages but another problem will then develop elsewhere. This school was badly built and insufficient cement was used during construction,” he said, adding that the school was built on a wetland.

Mabaso said the budget allocation for maintenance was about R100 000 a year and the money received from the Gauteng education department was not enough to fix structural damages. As a no-fee school, they were not able to generate additional funds from poor parents to fix the school.

“We want this school to be rebuilt from the ground up, if possible. With R28m [estimated by engineers] to fix it, it’s clear that we can have a new school,” he said, adding that the education department had not responded to their calls for a new school.

Tabling its report in Parliament, the department blamed implementing agents (who manage contractors) for poor workmanship and performance. It also explained that some contracts were terminated for various reasons, which led to the department underspending on its infrastructure development programme.

Pressure group Equal Education and leading opposition party the DA are already up in arms.

On Wednesday this week, the lobby group picketed outside Coega Development Corporation offices, an implementing agent appointing contractors for the massive Accelerated School Infrastructure Development Initiative in the Eastern Cape. They argued that Coega project managers were overloaded with work, with each managing an average of 40 to 45 school projects. Ideally, a project manager should oversee at the most 10 schools, according to group spokesperson Mila Kakaza.

“Project managers are crucial because they oversee the procurement of contractors and lead consultants. When project managers are overstretched, site visits to schools decrease, and the quality of school infrastructure projects plummets,” Kakaza said.

DA shadow deputy minister Nomsa Marchesi said Minister Angie Motshekga has to take responsibility for her department’s failure to deliver. She said at an estimate of R40m a school, 14 state-of-the-art schools could have built for close to 10 000 pupils, but the money was simply not being spent.

“Minister Motshekga cannot continue blaming provinces and bad contractors for the delay in delivering safe schools. It is time for them to take responsibility for the fact that thousands of children continue to learn in substandard buildings,” Marchesi said.

Read more on:    soweto  |  education

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