While the department of basic education announced the return of Grade 7 and 12 pupils to class on 1 June, teachers and unions say they are worried about how this will affect rural schools in the Eastern Cape.
The principal of Mcheni Secondary School in Tsolo Village, Hlanganisa Mazwi, said his 30 Grade 7 pupils would have to study in open fields after five dilapidated prefabricated classrooms collapsed during the 55-day lockdown period.
He said since 2016, 260 pupils have studied in the structure because the department had not yet completed the new R20 million school, which was set to be completed in March 2019, to replace mud classrooms.
Mazwi added the pupils were temporarily housed inside the prefabricated structures.
Eastern Cape education department spokesperson Vuyiseka Mboxela confirmed the conditions of some of the schools, but refused to comment and instead invited News24 to a media briefing on Thursday.
She said Education MEC Fundile Gade would outline his plans to address all matters surrounding schools in the province.
Mazwi painted a bleak picture during a telephonic interview with News24.
“There is no water at the school and there are no toilets. My children go to bushes on a steep slope below our school to relieve themselves and drink with animals in the river.”
He said he had arranged with a businessman to fill up the school’s 10,000 litre Jojo water tank, but villagers had stolen the water. “Villagers are also desperate because there is no clean piped water in this village. Vandals have also stolen the copper tap of the tank.”
Mazwi added it was a tough environment for the 11 teachers at the school as well because they also had to relieve themselves in the bushes like the pupils.
“There are too many problems with this school because thieves take advantage of the lack of security fencing.”
The principal of Mbabakazi Primary School in Ngcobo’s Mbabakazi Village, Zamuwonga Motolwana, said his tiny school of 76 pupils had more than 300 pupils and 11 teachers five years ago.
“Currently, it’s me and two other teachers. The number of pupils started dwindling drastically and teachers also followed suit and went to other schools.
“This is due to the deteriorating conditions of the school. Parents started pulling their pupils out of the schools and mostly sent them to Cape Town schools.
“For years, the education department has been making promises. A contractor came here in 2018 to do a geological examination and promised to start building a new school sooner. This year, I called the contractor and asked what happened, and I was told that the Department of Education had failed to give them direction.
“There was a project of drilling water holes that was being done in conjunction with the education department which also came to an unexpected halt. I don’t know what happened there. It’s really painful,” Motolwana said.
The SA Democratic Teacher’s Union’s (Sadtu) provincial secretary, Chris Mdingi, said it was calling on all 41,000 teachers from nearly 5,000 schools in the Eastern Cape to stand down.
“We are saying this to avoid being held accountable when someone contracts the virus. I can confirm to you now that there has not been any decontamination that has been done at our schools. There are no sanitisers, masks or gloves provided by the department, hence we are saying teachers and pupils should boycott this return.”
Mdingi said the message was also communicated to 260,000 Sadtu members across the country.
“We also call on the food handlers, cleaners and security guards not to report for duty. We will wait for a provincial pronunciation but as things stand based on [Minister] Angie Motshekga’s disappointing address, we will not go to classes.”
The Eastern Cape chairperson of the National Association of Schools Governing Bodies, Monga Peter, said it was not objecting the reopening if the department implemented all its plans.
“We as the association are part of this process, we are monitoring the department to make sure they put all the measures in place to ensure our children are safe. But the minister’s speech didn’t inspire confidence, hence we will closely monitor them to see if they deliver.”
Gade will brief the media on Thursday.