Ayabonga Mjali (7) wants to be a police officer when he’s big so he can bring peace to his neighbourhood and arrest robbers.
The little Grade 2 pupil is one of 111 children forced to learn in buildings made from mud and sticks at Lower Ntlaza Junior Primary School near Libode in the Eastern Cape.
Besides a poor education, the children are forced to endure jeers from those who are better-off in the village and able to attend better schools in Mthatha.
Lower Ntlaza school, for pupils from grades R to 4, lies in Mafini village along the R61 between Libode and Mthatha.
The community built it in 1994, but repeated pleas to the government for a safe school have been ignored.
Grades R and 2 pupils learn in mud classrooms with broken doors and windows, huge cracks in the walls, and leaky roofs held together by old sticks.
Two of the other mud classrooms have partially collapsed and are too dangerous to occupy.
There is no administration block, staffroom or principal’s office.
The Grade R mud classroom doubles as the administration office, while the principal uses the single prefabricated classroom provided by government for teaching and as her office.
The school is not fenced so thieves stole its toilet doors and now anyone, including passersby, can use the facilities.
The pit latrines, though, are too large for children as young as four.
When City Press visited last week, small children could be seen chasing cattle off the premises.
Ayabonga says the conditions are terrible but he has no choice but to attend the school that is closest to his home.
“I wish my school was also like other nice schools which we see around. It is not nice to learn in a mud school because we don’t know if the classroom will collapse on us. We are scared and hope that government will do something about our school and build it to be nice as well,” he said.
“When we are back home and playing with other children, they laugh at us because our school is ugly and built of mud. They tell us how nice their schools are in Mthatha and how they use flushing toilets and have computers and nice places to play, which really hurts.”
School principal Sibongile Mrali said she was scared the mud buildings would collapse.
Repeated calls over years to the provincial education department for proper classrooms yielded only a single prefabricated structure in 2017.
Mrali said the department informed them their school was on a list to be rationalised or merged but they’ve not heard anything further.
“We are always full of envy when we see what they are doing in these new schools they are building in rural areas such as ours, where they have science and computer laboratories, flushing toilets, libraries and playing fields for children. We don’t even have basic things,” Mrali said.
School governing body chairperson Fundiswa Mthintso said: “First the department promised to build us a school and then later told us that the school would be rationalised, which we are against, but, in the end none of those things has materialised.
“All that we know is that our children learn under very inhumane conditions and we get worried, especially when it rains, that those mud structures could collapse on them.”
Provincial education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said the school was scheduled for closure and its pupils would be moved to another institution, but he did not say when this would happen.
Mtima said about 1 412 Eastern Cape schools have inappropriate structures and the province needed R33.4 billion to fix them.