Mntla Primary School in the Eastern Cape. Photos by Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik
Parents at Mntla Primary School in Khothane village in the remote town of Ngqamakhwe, Eastern Cape, say they fear for their children’s safety.
The school was started by parents in the 1970s. The prefabricated classrooms date back to 1985 and are now unsafe. Ceilings are caving in, windows are broken, and there are holes in the collapsing walls.
The school has two blocks, each with four prefabs. There are 72 learners in grades R to 7. When it’s raining, they use the staff prefab, which is in the best condition, for teaching.
When we visited, the municipal supplied standpipes were dry, part of a wider problem in the area. For drinking water, the school depends on a rainwater tank. The school is also without electricity after wind damage to the school’s solar panels.
Community leader Nowandile Nyalambisa said for the past ten years they have been in and out of the Eastern Cape Department of Education offices in Butterworth (35km away) and its provincial offices in Bhisho (120km away), and the local municipality, begging for a new school.
She said this year the department promised to provide new prefabs. “But we are towards the end of the year now and there are no prefabs delivered,” said Nyalambisa.
“I don’t think there are any schools in this province that look like ours. It’s bad. Even the department officials hardly visit this school, because they are ashamed,” she said.
Nyalambisa said each year the school uses its maintenance budget to try and fix the classrooms, but it is insufficient.
She showed us a classroom recently fixed by parents who used building blocks to cover a collapsing wall.
“I wish you can come here when it’s windy just to see the roof moving and the whole building moving. When it rains water comes in from the ground, besides the leaks from the roof,” she said.
One classroom is now shared by grades 4, 5, and 6, after the grade 6 classroom wall collapsed. There is a hole in the wall and there is no ceiling. One can see the sky through the holes in the roof.
The back wall of the grade seven classroom has collapsed.
On our visit we met a teacher who was once a student at the school.
“The reason I chose this school was because most teachers, once they see the conditions of this school, they ask for transfers to other schools. I know the community needs this school and I don’t want the school to close. If I had money, I would build it on my own,” she said.
Zimingo Mlonyeni, in grade 4, showed us a hole in the wall near her desk. “We are always complaining about the cold,” she said.
She said the only other primary school in the area is too far away. “The road to that school passes through an open field and bushes. We would be forced to cross the river and that will be very dangerous,” said Zimingo.
The parents want a new school, but the department complains that the numbers are very low, said parent Meluxolo Ndandana.
“Our argument is that parents are moving their children to big cities because of the conditions in this school. If the department can fix the school, parents will bring their children back to the school,” said Ndandana.
During elections the school is used as a voting station. In 2021, to protest conditions, parents locked the gates and refused the IEC entry.
“Police were called to open the gate, just to show you that our government has no shame,” said Ndandana.
Eastern Cape Department of Education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said the classrooms are scheduled to receive repairs within this financial year. He said the material has been purchased and they are now waiting for the delivery.
But Nyalambisa and Ndandala said they have heard this before.
This article was first published by GroundUp.