A state-of-the-art school built for children with special needs in Gauteng stands empty.
Where there should be the sound of children playing, there is silence. Where there should be learning, there are empty classrooms. Where there should be teaching, there are blank chalkboards.
This is the situation at the Nokuthula Centre and Special School in Lyndhurst, Johannesburg. Nokuthula is a “LSEN school”, meaning it caters for “learners with special education needs”.
Nokuthula is a one-of-a-kind school in Gauteng, and it cost the state R248,159,795 to construct. But it has been unoccupied since October 2017.
At the time of the school’s opening, Times Select’s sister publication SowetanLIVE reported that the school was meant to bridge an educational gap that pupils with special needs experience in schools that don’t cater for their abilities.
“We are transforming a very important sector. Our children are not second-class citizens‚ but first-class citizens. Whoever thought that this sector does not deserve a swimming pool‚ you are wrong. We are doing all this because these children deserve our love‚ our care‚” said Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi.
That was on October 17 2017.
Now, the Gauteng portfolio committee on infrastructure development is demanding answers.
It wants the Department of Infrastructure Development (DID) to explain why such a desperately needed facility has not yet been handed over to the provincial education department.
DID implements projects on behalf of all Gauteng provincial departments. After completion, a certificate of occupancy has to be issued in order for the relevant department to move in and use the facility.
In a statement, the committee said it wants to know why DID failed to hand over the Nokuthula Centre and Special School occupancy certificate to the education department.
“The hand-over ceremony of this state-of-the-art school was held in October 2017. The understanding of the committee was that the school would be occupied and utilised in January 2018. But it has remained a white elephant for over eight months,” the committee said.
The school is designed to cater for 560 pupils with special educational needs, including autism, heavy to light vocational challenges, and physical disabilities.
“The committee is of the view that the failure of DID to provide the occupancy certificate undermines the efforts of the Gauteng provincial government to make available quality education facilities to learners with special education needs, who have for years been marginalised,” the committee said.
It added that it rejected a report presented by the department.
“It did not provide any answers as to why, eight months down the line, the occupancy certificate is not issued, who was responsible to issue it, and how long will they take to issue the certificate to allow the GDE to occupy the school,” the committee said.
DID has been given until this Thursday to present a full, detailed report to the committee.
Attempts to contact the department were not successful.