At Nyangilizwe Senior Secondary in Libode, pupils take turns standing guard for friends outside broken toilets with no doors.
At the nearby Ntapane Senior Secondary, the average class size is more than 120 pupils – eight of whom cram together at desks designed for three.
And at Libode’s Samson Senior Primary School, deep cracks reveal just how close buildings are to collapse.
But it wasn’t the sights or the smells that left a delegation of activists and academics reeling on a visit to schools in and around Mthatha this week – it was the pupils’ stories of how they struggle to learn.
The delegation was led by Anglican archbishop Thabo Makgoba and was organised by NGO Equal Education. In three days, they found chronically understaffed schools, pupils crammed into classrooms empty of furniture and textbooks, crumbling buildings and filthy toilets.
Delegates shared their observations with City Press:
Cameron McConnachie of Grahamstown’s Legal Resource Centre was shocked to see pupils queuing to use broken toilets with no doors at Nyangilizwe. “It’s a tragedy. This has been happening since apartheid ended. I cannot imagine why this has been allowed to happen. It is disgusting and a shame.”
Author and playwright Zakes Mda was particularly moved by what he called “unacceptable conditions” in a Grade 9 class at Ntapane Senior Secondary School. It was 18-year-old Sinesipho Gxagxisa’s story that shattered Mda. She told the delegation how she and her classmates battled to concentrate and cope with their work. “There is no proper learning that can take place here. There is also no water in the school.
“These conditions are the same ones I went through myself when I was a learner 50 years ago.
“Surely, 20 years into our democracy, this is not on? I expected that things had changed, but clearly they have not. This makes me very angry.”
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba called conditions at Nyangilizwe “inhumane”. “The toilets in Nyangilizwe are smelly. It is a hygiene risk. This kind of situation will surely create all sorts of problems for them health of these kids. This shows that, as society, we do not care, respect or even uphold the values and constitutional rights of these children. We have failed them.”
At Putuma Junior Secondary, Makgoba and his colleagues found a Grade 1 class of 177 children. “It is devastating to see, especially the little ones crammed into small spaces like that.
“How are they going to enjoy and cherish the experience of education? How is this supposed to change their lives for the better?”
Pierre de Vos, University of Cape Town professor of law, was shaken by scenes at a mud school called Samson Senior Primary. Deep in rural Libode, the school’s buildings have none of its biblical namesake’s strength. Pupils are taught in seven mud structures.
“These look like they can collapse any time. There are cracks in the walls, and roofs are falling apart. It’s scary. I cannot imagine how children, and even teachers for that matter, can be expected to be productive in such conditions. It disgusts me.”
Principal Agnes Mbali said officials from the education department last visited Samson in 1991.