‘It is as if the government does not care about us’ – pupils at school made up of shacks

The sandy and dusty floor at Faltein Secondary School. When it rains it turns to mud. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana
The sandy and dusty floor at Faltein Secondary School. When it rains it turns to mud. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

Sinegugu Ncoko, a Grade 9 pupil at Faltein Secondary School, wants to be a financial adviser when she completes her studies.

She is, however, depressed by the disrepair of her school.

The school, at the district of Chris Hani near Cofimvaba, Eastern Cape, is made up mainly of shacks, which include corrugated iron sheets and planks.

The windows and doors are broken and the floor is ruined and consists of sand and dust.

“It is very painful to be a pupil in this school because we are at risk of contracting diseases from the dust we inhale every day.

“We are learning under very difficult conditions but we are enduring these hardships because we want to be better people in life,” said Ncoko.

The 14-year-old, who lives with her grandmother and older brother in Ncora village, wants to be a financial adviser so that she will be able to develop the country’s economy.

All she wants is for the government to build her school properly and equip it with the necessary resources, including computer and science laboratories, a library and other infrastructure.

Ncoko said their shack school becomes very cold and when it rains water just flows into the classrooms, resulting in mud from the dusty floor.

“Some of the pupils end up getting sick from all kinds of illnesses. It is very painful. It is as if the government does not care about us. Our teachers are also not feeling good because they have to teach under these terrible conditions,” she said.

The school has 238 pupils from Grade 8 to Grade 12.

Teacher’s staff room. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

A member of the school management team and teacher, Ntombikayise Mkhatshane, said the school had been like that since it was established in 2016.

Mkhatshane shares a makeshift staff room – made of corrugated iron sheets – with eight other teachers.

The small shack is not only used as the teacher’s staff room, but is the principal’s office, the administration office and serves as a kitchen too.

In the same room you find small groceries, stationery, fax and printing machines.

“The conditions here are unbearable. I am 48 and I have to sit in that shack [staff room] the whole day. When I leave that shack I go to another one where I am supposed to teach. I am exposed to all sorts of illnesses.

“But, because we made a commitment to be teachers, we have to soldier on. At the end of the day we have to make sacrifices for the sake of these children,” said Mkhatshane.

Sicelo Loleka, the secretary of the school governing body, said they had been knocking on many doors at the education department to have their school fixed but nothing much had happened.

“We even went to the office of the late former MEC of education, Mandla Makupula, about this school where we tabled our demands. Most of the pupils used to go to a school in another village school across a river but when it rained they drowned because they had to cross the river,” said Loleka.

Last week a portfolio committee of education, led by its chairperson, Mpumelelo Saziwa, visited the school as part of its oversight visit.

Sinegugu Ncoko wants better learning conditions. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

Malibongwe Mtima, provincial spokesperson for the education department, said the school was part of ongoing plans of rationalisation when it would be merged with other neighbouring schools.

“We are planning to merge the four schools, [Nomadamba JSS, Wisile SS, Ncora SS and Faltein SS] into two schools – a primary school and a secondary school.

He said they were aware of the condition of the school and were dealing with the matter.

“The school previously had less than the required number of pupils and therefore it was unviable to build it, but now it qualifies to be rationalised with the other three schools as mentioned. The process of rationalisation will take its own course,” said Mtima.

Zanekhaya Sirhalarhala, headman of Nomadamba village where the school is based, said it was unacceptable to have a school in such a bad state.

He said the school was built by the community on their own.

“After two pupils drowned trying to cross a river to attend a school in a village across [from us] we decided in 2016 that we cannot continue to sit on the sidelines while our children die trying to access education. Each household contributed R100 so that we could buy the material we used to build the school.

“We thought by now the department would have come to the party and assisted us with proper classrooms,” he said.


Teaching and learning under these conditions is hard to comprehend. Who should take responsibility for this?

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