Four schools stay closed after builder trashes toilet blocks

The high court in Mthatha has found that a contractor who built school toilets at four schools in the Eastern Cape and then vandalised the buildings had violated the rights of learners to an education. 

Last week Tuesday the court ordered Jerry Sifanele and his company, Siyaphambili Trading 98 cc, to repair the toilet buildings and pay the cost of the court application.

This is after Sifanele stripped the roofs off three toilet blocks in the OR Tambo district municipality, which resulted in Tsantseka Junior, Julukunqu Junior Secondary and Xwili Primary schools not opening on June 8 because they did not comply with some Covid-19 regulations. Sifanele said he had done this in protest because he was still owed money for building the toilets. 

In her judgment Judge Nomatha-msanqa Beshe said that numerous court interdicts had been issued by the high court against Sifanele to stop him dismantling or removing building materials from the schools. 

One order, issued in June last year, interdicted Sifanele and anyone associated with his company from entering four schools. The Daily Dispatch reported in May last year that teachers and learners had to relieve themselves in the veld for two months. The Eastern Cape department of education then approached the court. 

The Daily Dispatch reported in August that Sifanele had removed the roof of the toilet block at Gwegwe Junior Secondary. 

Sifanele was appointed by Mvula Trust in 2015 to build toilet blocks and he completed the work in 2016. Mvula Trust said it had paid Siyaphambili Trading for work done and what was outstanding was final accounts that had to be approved by the department of public works and quantity surveyors, according to the newspaper report. 

In her judgment, Beshe said in August 2019 the high court had sentenced Sifanele to six months imprisonment, which was suspended on condition that he repair the block at Gwegwe. He did so. 

But during the Covid-19 lockdown, when schools were closed, he dismantled the blocks at Tsantseka, Julukunqu and Xwili schools. 

Beshe said the three schools will not reopen until they have “proper ablution facilities in place. In that way, the learners’ rights to basic education will be compromised.” 

Beshe said that although Sifanele had said in an affidavit that he had taken action because he had not been paid for the work he had done, he had no right to take the law into his own hands and thereby infringe the Constitutional right of learners at the three schools to get an education. 

Sifanele was ordered to fix the toilets at Tsantseka, Julukunqu and Xwili schools within 20 days of the court having given the order.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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