Learners refuse to go to school where there is no water

Learners protest after municipality cuts off Fort Beaufort school’s water for three months

By Mkhuseli Sizani

8 March 2023

Sakhululeka High School learners burn tyres at Amathole District Municipality offices in Fort Beaufort in a water protest on Tuesday. Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani

Over 800 learners and some parents from Sakhulukeka High School in Fort Beaufort left their classrooms on Tuesday morning. Waving placards with “No water, no school”, they protested outside the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDoE) district office.

But officials were not available because striking National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) members had blocked the entrance.

The learners are fed up with their school being without water for three months. They say this has badly affected learning and teaching.

The protesting learners proceeded to burn tyres and block the entrance to the Amathole District Municipality(ADM) offices, which administers water for Raymond Mhlaba Local Municipality.

About ten officials trapped in the building made several calls before promising the learners that water would be restored immediately while negotiations take place with school management. The school owes the municipality R98,000.

Joe Ndlebe, the school governing body chairperson, said the municipality and Department of Education had failed them.

“Since December there has been no water at our school. Learners have to bring their own water in two-litre bottles. In January our water bill was R44,000 and we had to take R22,000 of our school nutrition [funds] and pay our water bill.”

“We then approached the municipality and asked it to investigate why our water bill was accumulating so quickly, even during school holidays. They promised us that they will come and investigate the problem in February. But that never happened.”

“Now our water bill is R98,000 and our coffers are dry,” he said.

He said there was still some water in three 5,000-litre tanks but this was used only for flushing toilets.

Kwakho Zondani, school SRC secretary, said that because of the water problem the school day ended at 1pm instead of 3pm.

“We are behind with our syllabus and this is affecting our performance badly,” said Zondani.

Sisa Msiwa, acting ADM spokesperson, confirmed that the water had been cut off due to the debt. Msiwa said a meeting would be held with the school governing body, the ECDoE and ADM.

Malibongwe Mtima, department spokesperson, said a timeframe for repayment would be worked out, and it was the school governing body’s duty “to ensure that the school pays its bills”.

Both Mtima and Msiwa told us water had been restored after the protest.

But on Wednesday morning, Ndlebe said water had still not been restored.