Disabled learners turned away from school

Renovations at Mthatha school, closed last year after parents complained of poor conditions, have still not been completed

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Some parents and learners at Ikhwezi Lokusa Special School were turned away on Wednesday with all of their luggage because renovations at the hostel are not complete. Photos: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

  • Some parents and learners at Ikhwezi Lokusa Special School arriving for the new school term were turned away at the gates with all their luggage on Wednesday.
  • Only learners in grades 6 to 9 were allowed to return to school.
  • The school’s hostel, closed in November for renovation after reports of poor conditions, was not ready.
  • Eastern Cape Department of Education says it is looking at “measures” to ensure that all learners return to school soon.

Learners at Ikhwezi Lokusa Special School in Mthatha, Eastern Cape arrived with their luggage and uniforms to start the new term on Wednesday but were turned away at the gates.

Parents say they were shocked to discover on the day that the school’s hostel, which was closed in November for renovations, was still not ready.

GroundUp visited the school last year after Carte Blanche exposed poor conditions at the school and allegations of abuse by hostel staff. Learners in the hostel, many of whom need a wheelchair to get around, had been sleeping on beds made of bricks, bathing in cold water, and had been left “completely unattended” during the long interval when caregivers change shifts.

Ikhwezi Lokusa was built by missionaries in 1965. The government took over the management of the school in 2001 and rents the school buildings from the church. The hostel accommodated learners with physical and intellectual disabilities aged between six and 12.

After the exposé, the Eastern Cape Department of Education promised to investigate.

One of the classrooms at Ikhwezi is filled with old chairs and tables.

On Wednesday, school governing body chairperson Fundile Mazantsana said parents had been told to bring the learners back to school. But when parents arrived with their children, officials from the department told them that only grades 6 to 9 could be accommodated.

Mazantsana said renovations of the hostels were supposed to be completed by April, but there were delays by the construction company.

“The company is trying to work fast. Most of the work is done in the girls’ hostel. The company told us that as soon as they get the money from the department, they are going to order a floor mat, then move to the boys’ hostel,” said Mazantsana.

Mazantsana said the department, in the meantime, had agreed to hire accommodation in Mthatha for the grade 6 to 9 learners. Department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima did not confirm or deny this.

Mazantsana said parents had found places for about 65 learners to sleep, and the department had promised to pay. “Our prayer is that the department pays these people as agreed because we don’t want to see our children stranded,” he said.

Parent Sinoyolo Madikane said she was frustrated that her daughter in grade 3 could not be accommodated.

“Since January we have been in and out of this school demanding answers on when these renovations are going to be finished. There was a time in February when we were told that the construction company had left the site. When we asked about that, the department said they will take our children to a special school in Bizana. We refused because that school is far, and there are also allegations of worse conditions,” she said.

Mtima said the department is working with parents and the school and would provide transport to all learners who live 20km from the school.

“This week grades 6 to 9 have returned to school. There are measures we are looking at in making sure that all learners return to school as planned. Unfortunately, I cannot talk about those measures,” he said.

Many of the windows of the school and hostel are still broken.

TOPICS:  Disability Rights Education

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