Decades on, the school built in her honour still comprises prefab classrooms and pit latrines
A school named after late struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela does not have a single permanent structure built by the ANC-led government 23 years after the institution was established.
The pit latrines at Winnie Mandela Comprehensive School in Ngutyana village, situated in the KwaKhanyayo area on the outskirts of Mbizana, Eastern Cape, are an eyesore.
The stench they emit and their very existence spell danger for pupils.
The school is in the same district where five-year-old Lumka Mkhethwa drowned in a pit latrine at Luna Junior Secondary School, also in Mbizana, last year.
Following the incident, the toilets at Luna were transformed into modern, flushable toilets.
Not at Winnie Mandela Comprehensive School, where the toilets are so bad that pupils opt to relieve themselves in the bushes.
The pit latrines were constructed by parents when the school was established in 1996.
The classrooms were also built by the community and while some look decent, others are not in good shape, showing cracks in the walls, missing boards and crumbling floors.
The government school was built entirely from donations by parents, with each household in the village contributing at least R200 to buy building materials.
The high school, which is not far from the village of Mbhongweni, where Madikizela-Mandela was born, has no electricity.
Pupils and teachers rely on rainwater harvesting as their only source of water supply, while the communal taps can run dry for up to a year.
The school is not fenced and has no library and no computer laboratory.
The only government support the school received was the provision of three temporary prefabricated structures in 2012.
But some of these prefabs are already broken, with holes in the floor posing a danger to pupils and educators.
The school’s dejected principal, Goodman Cele, says pleas for help have gone unanswered. He tells City Press that the community built the school from scratch.
It started with two classrooms and has grown to nine.
“Government provided us with prefabs in 2012, promising to build permanent structures immediately because the numbers of pupils at the time kept on increasing. But now, seven years later, we are still where we were back then, having no permanent classrooms.
“The toilets are in a terrible state and with all the stories of children drowning, we always warn pupils to be vigilant. We have submitted a requisition for toilets – a basic necessity in any school environment – along with other requirements such as more classrooms, but we are still waiting. We do not know where we stand because there is no communication forthcoming.”
The school has 367 pupils and 20 teachers, including two who are employed by the school governing body (SGB). Classes cater for Grades 8 to 12.
Despite the challenges, Cele says, the school still managed a 64.5% matric pass rate last year.
Cele believes that if the basics were provided – namely, proper classrooms, a library, a computer room and a well-equipped science laboratory – the school could achieve even better results.
Another challenge, he says, lies in the lack of basic necessities in the community itself. Given the scarcity of water and electricity in the village, none of the school’s teachers lives nearby. Instead, they commute from Mbizana, which is 35km away.
“That has its own challenges because the gravel road between Mbizana and the school is in a poor state, with huge potholes and rocks. So, by the time the teachers get to school, riding at the back of bakkies, they are already tired,” said Cele.
“Whichever way you look at our situation, the conditions are just not favourable. We would like government to fix the roads and supply us with electricity and water.”
Thobeka Bhaca, the SGB’s treasurer, adds that it is disappointing that, to date, the government has not provided any assistance.
“The government should have at least met us halfway. Look at these dilapidated pit latrines. It is such an embarrassment. What kind of government cannot even provide basic needs such as toilets for young, innocent children?” says Bhaca.
“We have shown initiative as parents. We built the school from nothing, using our hard-earned money, as poor as we are. Even those toilets were built by us.
“What has government done? Why did we vote if this is how this government is going to treat us? It is even more embarrassing because this school is named after one of the great struggle icons of this country, umama Winnie.”
Provincial education spokesperson Mali Mtima said the department was aware of the situation at the school and promised to provide further details later.