E Cape mud schools falling apart

Chabasa Senior Primary School in Port St John's, Eastern Cape, is built of mud and zinc. Photos supplied by Modi Maqabaza.

Parents and SGBs of mud schools in Port St Johns say they have tried in vain to get government to build proper classrooms.

According to the national minimum norms and standards set by the Education Minister, Angie Motshekga in November 2013, all schools built out of mud, wood, zinc and asbestos should be fixed or replaced by 2016. 

But in Majola village near Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape, there are still mud schools and the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDoE) says there’s no money to fix them.

ECDoE spokesperson, Malibongwe Mtima, said the department has put on hold all planned projects due to budgetary shortfalls while it completes projects that are contracted and are underway.

Chabasa Senior Primary School in Kwa-Majola village in Swatini district has 241 learners from grades R to seven. This school made of zinc and mud was built by parents in 1994. For years they begged the department to build proper classrooms but they have only ever received empty promises.

School governing body chairperson, Zamile Marongo, said government has forgotten about them and their children. 

Due to the shortage of classrooms, Grades 1 and 2 and Grades 5 and 6, and so on, are combined. The covid-19 pandemic has redivided the combined grades into four classes.

“When we first build the school, all the men from the village collected sticks from the bushes and stones to put in between. Women then assisted in making mud, and then we made a two-room flat,” said Marongo. A year later, parents built another two-room flat again using sticks and mud. Strong winds have since destroyed the first flat.

“We didn’t have money then, but people decided to donate old zincs [to] build the two room shack,” he said. “But the shack was not enough and the mud classrooms were no longer safe. We then decided to make another donation to build at least one block using bricks each house donated one brick, a bag of cement and R100. We are still trying to build the block but it’s not easy,” said Marongo.

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Most of the residents at the village are elderly and rely on old age grants while raising their grandchildren.

Marongo said, “Each time when we visit the department offices, they act like they care but clearly they don’t. Always at the beginning of the year for the past seven years the department will send a surveyor to survey a land then you won’t see them again until the beginning of the following year… One thing you will never get from them is when are they going to send the contractor. In Bisho they know us.”

Inside a classroom at Chabasa primary school where, for a shortage of classrooms, they combine two grades in a class.

Just a few kilometres away from this school, there is another mud school called Jongimpuma Senior Primary. Built by parents in 1995, the school has 250 learners.

School governing body (SGB) member, Thembalakhe Mavimbela, said they have lost hope in government. The ECDoE has made it very clear to the school principal and the SGB that there’s no money to build the school. What frustrates him the most are the empty promises. Just like in Chabasa, Mavimbela said each year the department would send a land surveyor.

“In all they gave us a false hope; now they are telling us that there’s no budget,” said Mavimbela.

“To be honest, we do not know who to turn to now. We tried all we can think of. For years we been fixing this school. Port St Johns often has strong wind and our classrooms often get destroyed by floods,” said Mavimbela.

“Ten years gave us three room temporary classrooms. They are now old,” said Mavimbela. Some classes were held under a tree. “Before the pandemic two grades were attending under the tree,” he said.

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Gobizizwe Senior Primary School in Port St John’s was built by parents in 1984.

The third mud school in Majola village is Gobizizwe Senior Primary School, built by parents in 1984. The school consists of two mud huts, a shack and one prefab that accommodates 196 learners. For the past 20 years they have been waiting for the department to build them proper classrooms with no luck. 

Mud schools no more?

In July 2018, Equal Education scored a victory when Bisho High Court found parts of the government’s norms and standards to be unconstitutional. 

The court ordered that the classrooms substantially built of mud, asbestos, wood or metal be replaced with buildings that meet the National Building Regulations.

Head of Equal Education in the Eastern Cape, Athenkosi Sopitshi, said the magnitude of the infrastructure problems facing Eastern Cape schools is widely known and the province has severe backlogs that the ECDoE is far too slow in addressing. 

According to Sopitshi, the exact number of mud and zinc schools in the province is unknown because of inconsistencies in the reporting by the department. “According to the ECDoE’s latest Norms and Standards compliance progress report (dated November 2019)… there are 137 schools that are still made from inappropriate materials,” she said.

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