Mpumalanga delays building of school for learners with disabilities

School was promised over 10 years ago

By Masoka Dube

13 February 2024

Disabled People South Africa is demanding that the Mpumalanga Department of Education speed up the construction of a residential high school for learners with disabilities, the first in the province. The school was meant to be built in 2013. Illustration by Lisa Nelson

Disabled People South Africa (DPSA) has called on the Mpumalanga Department of Education to speed up construction of the province’s first residential high school for learners with disabilities. Education MEC Reginah Mhaule promised in her 2012-3 budget speech that construction of the school, in the Mbombela muncipality, would start in the 2013-4 financial year.

But construction has not yet started.

The issue was flagged in May by the SA Human Rights Commission which promised to “keep a close eye on the construction” of a new school. In a statement, the SA Human Rights Commission said the provincial government “acts like the construction is not a matter of urgency”.

SAHRC Mpumalanga manager Eric Mokonyama told GroundUp that there had been a problem with the location of a site.

Jasper Zwane, spokesperson for the provincial department of education, acknowledged that the department had failed to build the school in the promised timeline.

“Finding a suitable site was a challenge. However, through the cooperation of all involved, one has since been located at eMalahleni,” said Zwane. “A process is in motion this year to accelerate planning and design to enable construction to commence in phases.” Zwane did not respond to questions about how much budget had already been allocated to the project or when construction would start.

The province has 18 special schools but there are no public schools that cater to all learners with learning disabilities beyond grade 9. There are a number of inclusive schools, but most of them do not have adequate infrastructure and resources to cater for all disabilities.

As a result, hundreds of learners with disabilities whose parents can’t afford to send them to schools outside of the province, are forced to stay home after primary education.

Jeniffer Matsebula, a sign language interpreter, says she is among the few parents who could afford to send her daughter, who is deaf, to another province to complete her schooling. “We are from Luphisi outside Mbombela. Since we don’t have a high school for disabled pupils, I was obliged to send her to Philadelphia Secondary School in Pretoria,” said Matsebula. She said she had to spend R6,500 on accommodation and school fees for her 20-year-old daughter who recently passed matric.

“We are very disappointed by the department’s failure to deliver on its promises. This delay is frustrating and denies children with disabilities their rights to education,” said DPSA national chairperson Patrick Mahlakoane. “Even road construction does not take 12 years,” he said.