Parents, learners shut down Port Elizabeth school

Construction delayed after Eastern Cape education department fails to pay building contractors

Photo of protesting school children

Learners and parents shut down the Rufane Donkin Primary School in Port Elizabeth on Monday in protest against construction delays. Photo: Thamsanqa Mbovane

By Thamsanqa Mbovane

27 January 2020

Learners at the Rufane Donkin Primary School in Port Elizabeth and their parents shut down the school on Monday morning, protesting against delays in building new classrooms.

The school, in the Northern Areas, has 650 learners.

Learners from grade R to grade 7 classes took to the streets with their parents, carrying placards “Bou my skool klaar”, and singing.

The parents and learners demanded eight new classrooms, to add to the present 19 classrooms. They also wanted construction of the school hall to be completed.

Teachers said Coega Development Corporation, the implementing agent for the Eastern Cape Department of Education, had started construction in February 2012, but had stopped after a year. Work had started again at the beginning of 2016 but come to a standstill at the end of that year.

As they protested, one of the parents shouted “We are gatvol of Coega and the Department of Education!”

Chair of the School Governing Body Jasmine Windvogel said there was not enough room to accommodate the grade 7 learners in a single classroom. “This year, we need three grade 7 classes, because learners who started doing grade R long ago have now reached grade 7.”

She said English and Afrikaans learners were using the staff room and a dining room as classrooms.

“We need five classes to accommodate English and Afrikaans, as well as three classes for grade 7. Coega was supposed to build eight classrooms which they left unfinished. We tried to ask for mobile classes for three years, but the Department of Education never responded. Last week they wanted to give us mobile classrooms, but we are saying it’s too late now. We want the real classrooms.”

She said last week on Wednesday, the SGB had decided to open two classrooms that had not been completed. “But when we went inside those classrooms, electrical wires were exposed. We were also afraid that the unfinished roof would fall on the children.”

“The department came and scolded us, asking why we opened the two unfinished classes. They ordered us to close them again but did not give us another option. We asked them: must the children be taught under trees? We want a date when they will rebuild this school, and we will go back to class only when they tell us.”

Spokesman for the Eastern Cape Department of Education Loyiso Pulumani said a contractor had been appointed to complete the project at the end of March 2017, and the project was due to be completed at the end of January 2018. But there were delays in payment by the Eastern Cape Department of Education to the main contractor. “This essentially was due to the Department also experiencing cash flow challenges that affected some of the projects underway.”

The contractor had cancelled the contract on 21 December 2018.

“A new contractor will be sourced in the new financial year to finalise all outstanding work,” said Pulumani.

Ayanda Vilakazi, head of marketing at the Coega Development Corporation, told GroundUp: “We will respond to your enquiry within 24 hours. We have to firstly establish if this is our project or not.”