A R57 million school in the Eastern Cape may become another white elephant after parents vowed not to send their kids there.
Irate parents have accused the department of education in the province of not doing due diligence before constructing the multimillion-rand school in Tsolo.
Inxu Junior Secondary School in Mahlubini village, which cost taxpayers R57 240 540, has attracted only 71 pupils.
The state-of-the-art school boasts impressive facilities, including an early childhood development complex with three Grade R classrooms, a fully equipped play area with ablution facilities, 10 newly built classrooms, rooms for heads of department, an administration block, a dining and nutrition centre, and a multipurpose classroom.
There is also a science laboratory, a multimedia centre, a guard house, a recycling facility with a refuse room, and an assembly area with a grandstand and a sports field, as well as bulk services in the form of an upgraded power supply and reticulated water.
According to Malibongwe Mtima, the provincial education spokesperson, the school will be completed next month and is expected to open its doors in February.
It was built as part of the department of basic education’s accelerated schools infrastructure delivery initiative, with the Development Bank of Southern Africa as the implementing agent. The programme aims to eradicate inadequate and unsafe schools throughout the country and replace them with proper structures.
However, despite Inxu Junior Secondary School’s impressive infrastructure – the envy of many rural schools around the province, many of which still feature unsafe mud structures and corrugated iron – its location, and the process undertaken to establish it, have angered parents and traditional leaders in the area.
MOVED WITHOUT CONSENT
They have vowed not to send their children to the new school because the department built it in the wrong location and without the approval of their local chief and the community.
Nkosi Zwelethu Tyali, head of the AmaMpondomise AseNtshona traditional council under which Inxu falls, says neither he nor the affected communities were involved in identifying the site of the school or its planning and construction.
“We’re seeing the department of basic education and the Development Bank of Southern Africa simply imposing things on communities without consulting the relevant government-recognised structures,” said Tyali.
He says that protocol stipulates that any project undertaken in his community be given the go-ahead by the traditional council.
He claims he was deliberately sidelined by people with ulterior motives within the department who wanted the school to be built on a particular site for their personal benefit.
“The department has to explain to my traditional council why this happened. We’ve been undermined enough. What makes me angry is that I raised these things with them beforehand. I warned the Development Bank of Southern Africa about this,” said Tyali.
He says the community had agreed that the school should be built at Ntywenka, a village that is more central and would have accommodated a number of surrounding communities.
“The community was simply bulldozed and the school was built in Mahlubini, despite their objections, so that those who have their own agendas could benefit from kickbacks,” said Tyali, adding that this is the only way they could make sense of what’s happened.
Now that the school has been completed, but has no pupils, he believes the department is trying to close down neighbouring schools to boost enrolments at Inxu.
Mvuyisi Mhlandleni, secretary of the school governing body of Zandise Junior Secondary School in Ngxaza village, says parents are refusing to move their children to Inxu Junior Secondary School because there is nothing wrong with the one they are already in.
Mhlandleni, who has three children at Zandise, believes that if government wants to assist their children, it should undertake development where the children are currently and improve the school they already use.
The children, he adds, cannot be punished for the department’s failure to plan properly.
“We have very young pupils here and if this school is closed, as the department is proposing, our kids will be expected to cross rivers to get to Inxu, because even the scholar transport of the department is a complete failure.
“Not long ago, in Mount Fletcher, not far from here, six children died trying to cross a river while returning from school. We cannot allow that situation to happen again.
“For that reason, we want our children to remain where they are. If the department decides to build a school without involving the community and it then turns out that the new school has no pupils, that’s neither our fault nor our children’s fault.”
Mhlandleni says Zandise Junior Secondary School, which offers tuition from grades R to 9, has been a beacon of hope for the community since it was established in 1986.
MAKING UP NUMBERS
“The only reason the department wants to close this school and others is so that it can make up numbers for Inxu. As a community, all we know is that Inxu was supposed to be built in Ntywenka, which is more central. But without any explanation, we saw construction taking place at the current site,” he said.
Nkosi Nceba Mabandla, head of the Siqhunggweni administrative area in Tsolo, confirms that the decision to build the school in Mahlubini was made by department officials and politicians without the involvement of the community.
“We aren’t satisfied because we agreed that the school should be built in ward 6 in Ntywenka, not ward 5, where it is now.
“The painful part is that departmental officials simply did their own thing, against the wishes of the community they claim to be serving.
“We don’t know who stands to benefit from having the school where it is. Clearly, someone does – but it isn’t the community or our children,” said Mabandla.
In January last year, Tyali wrote to the Development Bank of Southern Africa asking it to investigate allegations that people were paying bribe money in order to get employed in the construction of Inxu and Ngxaza junior secondary schools, both of which fall under his custodianship.
He says he did not get much cooperation from the bank or the departments, despite his requests for intervention.