Primary school kids sent home because of lack of toilets and sewage smell

| Zintle Swana
The school’s broken toilets are not connected to the sewage system pipes. Photo by Masixole Feni.

It is only 10am on a Wednesday morning and A.C.J. Phakade primary school students in Nomzamo township (near Strand in Cape Town) are already walking home or waiting for shuttles to fetch them.

The reasons is that their teachers are holding what they are calling a go-slow. The go-slow started on Tuesday because of the shortage of toilets for students and teachers, as well as a broken sewage system that has left an overpowering stench in the classrooms, and unfinished construction that started in 2011.

According to Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for MEC for Education Debbie Schafer, the education department’s district director gave permission for the school to close earlier while the problems are fixed.

The past two days classes started at 8am, but an hour or two later the children were sent home. Yesterday they were told not to come to school until Friday.

School teacher and coordinator for safety, Xolile Platjies, says the sewage water has been there since last year.

“The kids cannot play in the yard anymore because they always fall on that water. You can smell the unpleasant scent even when you are in the classroom. The health of these kids is at risk,” said Platjies.

The current classrooms are prefabricated and when they were provided the plan was that concrete classrooms would be built at a later stage. The construction began in 2011 and stopped last year.

The school principal, Thobile Majingo, said he was not informed that the construction would be stopped or the reason for it. “I have never witnessed a construction that takes four years to build a primary school, and the worst part is that the construction just stopped without informing any of the staff.”

Majingo, who took over as head of school in April 2014, said there are not enough toilets for the number of kids that are registered in the school. There are 1,220 students using nine toilets. The current toilets are damaged and currently not working.

“Teachers do not have toilets in the premises at all and if they need to use a bathroom they have to leave classrooms and drive to the nearest petrol station which in unacceptable,” he said.

Shelver told GroundUp that a contractor visited the school on Friday “to investigate the scope of work”. She said he returned on Saturday to repair the ablutions, however the septic tank was overflowing, and “he could not mitigate the situation.” Shelver said that the blockage has been cleared and there has been no spillage since yesterday. She said that the Department of Public Works would be cleaning up the existing spillage.

Shelver said that the teachers have had no toilet facilities because of vandalism during the school holidays. The education department has arranged for 23 chemical toilets to be delivered to the school today. She said that construction at the school is scheduled to be completed by May 2015. “We we are trying to build a state of the art school on the premises,” she said.

Construction on the school remains unfinished. However, the Western Cape Department of Basic Education says that it will be finished by May and that the aim is to have a “state of the art” school. Photo by Masixole Feni.

A parent who identified herself as “Mrs Gaba” lives in the same street as the school and has two children attending it. She said she was not pleased by the strike but she understands because of the bad situation at the school.

“My children complain all the time about toilets that they don’t have at school and the younger one once came back from school with a wet school bag that he dropped in the sewage water,” she said.

TOPICS:  Education Provincial Sanitation

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