In February 2014, the Eastern Cape High Court in Mthatha ruled that the South African government and the provincial and national education departments had breached the Eastern Cape public school pupils’ constitutional right to a basic education by consistently failing to provide them with adequate school furniture.
Despite the court judgement, there are still schools that do not have desks and chairs in Eastern Cape. Pupils have to sit on cold concrete floors or use cleaning buckets or their knees as their desks. It has also become a norm for the pupils to fight over chairs when they change classes. Chubekile Secondary School in KwaZakhele was built in 2007 and since then they have been without desks and chairs. Of the 714 pupils only 120 are able to sit properly and there are about 12 classes with no proper desk or chairs.
Grade 10 pupil, Yonela Ndunzi, 14, said shortage of the school’s furniture is a big problem for the pupils. “We are suffering a lot because we have to go around the school looking for chairs while teaching continues in class,” Ndunzi said.
Some were lucky to get the school’s cleaning buckets which they used as desks.
Another grade 10 pupil, Xolela Diniwe, 17, said they could not write their June exams properly because a number of them had to use the floors. “Some were lucky to get the school’s cleaning buckets which they used as desks,” Diniwe said.
Eastern Cape provincial departmental spokesperson, Mali Mtima confirmed that there was a problem of a lack of furniture at schools. However he said the department offered Chubekile a temporary solution of getting chairs and desks from one of the three school’s that merged with other schools in PE but the school turned down the offer.
The chairperson of the School Governing Body (SGB), Mandla Mesusi said it is true that they were told to take furniture from one of the schools that closed at the beginning of this year but when they got there, there was nothing.
“The rule of new school, new furniture never applied to this school. Even when they told us to get furniture from the S.E.K Mqhayi, we went there but unfortunately there was nothing. We have written a number of letters to the department but we never get response,” he said.
Departmental spokesman Mali Mtima said they are working with their national office to ensure that they equip schools with furniture. “This is not a huge challenge as there are less than 200 schools that still need furniture. We are topping up in most schools. Chubekile was not part of this year’s financial plan as a result they will not be provided with the new furniture this year but will get it in 2016/17,” Mtima said.
However, the Legal Resource Centre in Grahamstown which has been wrangling with the department since 2012 says that the department is not honest about the number of schools that are still waiting for furniture. Cameron McConnachie, a lawyer from the Legal Resource Centre said that the different furniture needs audits report that the department has presented have major discrepancies. “Sometimes you find out that one audit has schools that start with A to N and no schools from M onwards, or in another audit you get about 45 schools with the same furniture needs,” said McConnachie.
The Legal Resource Centre maintains that many schools with furniture needs have either had their needs incorrectly recorded on the furniture audit or simply not been included in the audit at all.