Pupils in EC school only getting four hours of learning after classrooms were gutted by fire

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Alheit van der Merwe Primary School classrooms that were destroyed by fire last year. Photovv: Supplied
Alheit van der Merwe Primary School classrooms that were destroyed by fire last year. Photovv: Supplied

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In Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape, 940 pupils at a primary school can only be taught for four hours a day because there are insufficient classrooms. Children also have to sit in burnt classrooms that could collapse on them at any time.

This is according to Yusuf Cassim, the DA leader and member of the Eastern Cape provincial legislature who visited the Alheit van der Merwe Primary School in Hilton on an oversight visit recently, and found conditions not conducive to learning.

The school was gutted by a fire last year in May. Seven classrooms, an admin block, three storerooms, five toilets and staff rooms were damaged. As a result, the 35 female teachers and other staff members share one toilet and male staff use toilets at a nearby rugby club.

Cassim said: 

I found that, as a direct result of the fire damage and the department not providing any form of support, pupils in Grades 4 to 7 are only receiving four hours of teaching a day.


The poor infrastructure and limited resources left the school with no option but to split the pupils, with some grades attending classes in the morning, and others in the afternoons.

Other buildings were also destroyed in the fire.Photo: Supplied
Yusuf Cassim of the DA speaks with a staff member at Alheit van der Merwe Primary School. Photo: Supplied
Yusuf Cassim inspects one of the toilets damaged in the fire. Photo: Supplied

According to Cassim, Education MEC Fundile Gade, has been promising to provide seven temporary classrooms since January. “A large portion of the 940 pupils registered at the school are now divided between seven dilapidated prefab classrooms built in 1971 and which have long exceeded their lifespan.”

Gade’s spokesperson, Vuyiseka Mboxela, said several schools had to be rebuilt in the province. But, this would depend on the available budget.

Some of the schools are not going to be built urgently because you have got a rationalisation and repurposition that its taking place, which means we have got a process of closing few schools around the province that are not viable and have got a small number [of pupils]. As we do that, we re-direct pupils to another school.


Mboxela added that the department needed almost R8 billion for new school infrastructure but it currently only had R1.8 billion.

“Now it then tells you that the pace at which we are building schools and responding to court pronouncements is also hampered by an available budget that was cut by the National Treasury,” she said.

Mboxela said whenever there was a budget cut the education department was hardest hit, especially its infrastructure projects because of rising costs.

“We are rebuilding some schools just like those that were hit by severe hailstorms last year, we build the schools on the already shrinking budget.”

Cassim said he would discuss the matter with the MEC, and request that a new school be prioritised for the Alheit van der Merwe School.

He said:

The MEC must also answer why the promises that were made for temporary classrooms have not been met. I will also be writing to the head of infrastructure in the department, requesting him to urgently visit the school and provide answers as to when temporary classrooms will be received as promised.



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