It is 11am on a cold Friday at Mcheni Primary School and there is not a single pupil or teacher at school. The dilapidated mud school on the outskirts of the small town of Tsolo in Tyweka village, KuJence (can’t find on map), becomes a ghost when the weather is bad, like this particular Friday.
When it is rainy, windy or cold, pupils are sent home early or told to not attend school at all.
Last Friday morning, while many learners around the country were busy with their studies to attain a level of education which will allow them to acquire crucial skills for their future, Mcheni Primary School pupils were sitting at home.
The Eastern Cape department of education confirmed that it was aware of the situation at the school.
More than 250 pupils use mud structures as their classrooms, which were built by the community in the early 1990s.
The classrooms are completely dilapidated and pose a serious danger. Doors and windows are either broken or missing and large cracks are visible in the walls.
Worse still, the department wasted R7 million constructing a state-of-the-art school, adjacent to the old structure, where pupils were meant to be relocated to once construction was complete.
But the new face brick building was built on the side of a mountain, a site obviously not suitable for any construction.
As a result, the building is falling apart. The partially complete school is a white elephant that sunk R7 million of taxpayers’ money.
According to department spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani, the project was estimated to cost R17 million at the time the tender was awarded in 2013.
“Thus far, R7 million has been spent on the project,” he said, adding that another contractor had already started work on a different site to make sure that temporary structures are provided while the department tries to recoup from service providers the money wasted at the first site.
“Building of the temporary facility is under way, while legal processes to force service providers to pay back the losses are being finalised by the implementing agent,” he said.
Pulumani was quick to say that proper environmental impact assessment was conducted on the site where millions were spent to build the new school.
He said the failure emanated from civil and structural engineering malperformance by the consultants, not from environmental factors.
However, Sikhumbuzo Xilongile, treasurer of the school governing body at Mcheni, said government was to blame for all the mishaps at the school.
He alleged that a contractor had already left the new site owing to non-payment.
He said the school project started in 2014 and was abandoned in 2015 when cracks began to show.
Xilongile said last month the department promised that they would at least have temporary classrooms at the new site, but nothing had happened.
“Government is just making empty promises and then does nothing. Not so long ago people from the department were here and made all sorts of promises. We were meant to have temporary classrooms at the new site three weeks ago, but that has not happened and there has been no explanation. The situation has been like this for many years now,” said Xilongile.
The department spent R7 million constructing this state-of-the-art school on the wrong side of the mountain
When City Press visited the school last week, ruins of corrugated iron shacks which were previously used by construction workers at the abandoned school stood as makeshift classrooms.
Ndileka Kube (56), a parent who works at the school cooking for the pupils, said she was devastated by the condition of the school.
She said her grandchild is a pupil at the school and often gets sick from flu and coughs frequently as a result of the dust at mud structures.
She added that the only structure with electricity is a two-roomed flat which is used as office and staff room.
The school does not have toilets, and pupils and teachers drink water from the river along with animals.
Kube said it was not safe for their children to attend school when it is windy because the corrugated galvanised iron sheets from the shacks pose danger.
She said the shacks were recently blown away by strong winds during school hours and it was by sheer luck that pupils and teachers were not affected.
“I don’t know why after so many years into democracy our children are made to learn under such terrible conditions. They have to learn in these mud classrooms which were built by the community because the department is not assisting us. Teachers are forced to close the school early when it is cold. As you can see, we are under the mountains here. It is very cold, no child can bear this weather,” she said.