Nomfundo Xolo, GroundUp
Nkandla - Residents of two villages in the Nkandla area are demanding answers from the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Social Development (DSD) about two crèches which have been delayed since 2015.
So far, only one of the two Early Childhood Development Centres, for children up to four years old, has been built but no children have been enrolled. Unused chairs and left-over building materials fill the centre. This has frustrated many of the families in the villages of Ezimambeni and Thulani, some of them grandparents looking after grandchildren.
Mdedeli Mbatha, coordinator of non-profit organisation Siphiwesihle, says the organisation received a grant of R755 566 in July 2013 from the National Lottery, and used “around R300 000” to build one centre in Ezimambeni and another in Thulani. He says he had the support of the Amaphuthu Traditional Council.
The Ezimbambeni centre was completed in 2014 but has never been opened. Mbatha says soon after it was built, the DSD demanded that the keys be handed over.
Numerous attempts by GroundUp to reach DSD spokesperson Ncumisa Ndelu by email and telephone since 19 January have been unsuccessful.
“The children in this area are being denied a place where they can be kids and be prepared for school,” said Mbatha. But asked if he had sent reports to the National Lottery, he said he had not.
Nonkululeko Zondi, Customer Liaison Officer at National Lottery, said she could not comment as information on grant recipients was confidential. She said organisations that have been awarded grants were expected to “give a report at least after a year following the grant provision”.
“If there are any reports of irregularities, site visits and investigations are then made,” she said.
Ezimambeni traditional leader Aaron Mazibuko said the reason why the centres were not operating was conflict between Mbatha and the DSD in Nkandla.
“At first there was conflict over the name of the centre, because Mbatha wanted to call it Siphiwesihle (beautiful gift) but the DSD wanted the centre called S’khulangemfundo (we are growing with knowledge). Thereafter there was havoc over an official handover, with DSD wanting to take over and handle the centre themselves. With no resolution, children are still without a development centre.”
Fakazi Madlala, traditional leader from Thulani, said the department was deliberately delaying the project. “We have been waiting for these centres that were promised to us for years now,” he said.
Nomasonto Shezi, who has a qualification in childhood development, works as a volunteer, holding classes in her neighbours’ rondavel. She said she currently teaches 16 children with help from the neighbours. They cook for the children who often come to the crèche hungry.
“In an area such as Ezimambeni where underdevelopment is rife, the development of children from the ages of nought to five years old is ignored. I do as much as I can to help keep the children active and in an environment suitable for a child’s development, with other kids,” Shezi said.
Nothing has changed
A few metres away from the abandoned Siphiwesihle Centre lives Badingile Zwane, a grandmother of two, who for the past two years has offered a room in her home for children to be taught by a teacher. She helped cook and keep the space clean but this crèche had to close after the teacher left. “Like many of the women around here I was very excited when the centres were proposed and when we saw one being built. Two years later, nothing has changed.
“There is obvious tension and problems which are causing these delays, all of which do not matter. What is important is for the kids to get a better start than they would normally have here,” said Zwane.
Chopping wood to make a fence, Msizi Mchunu, father of three-year-old Nozibusiso, Msizi Mchunu, said he was hoping the centre would teach his child basic skills. “When she was attending the informal crèche at the Zwane’s household she would come home excited and enlightened. She learnt to recite songs, count and draw. Now there’s not much for her to do here besides play next to me,” he said.
Mbatha said he has reported the matter to the Public Protector’s Office.