Talita Mshweshwe is a law student from East London doing an internship at the Legal Resources Centre (LRC). She interviewed a young girl named Siyabonga, a grade 7 pupil at Ncincinikwe Senior Primary School in Votini in the Eastern Cape. Ncincinikwe Senior Primary School is one of approximately 300 mud schools in the province. This is Siyabonga’s story.
My name is Siyabonga, I am in grade seven at Ncincinikwe Senior Primary School. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) says that my school is a quintile one school, which apparently is the poorest. We come from a rural community in the Butterworth area. There are 167 of us in the school. We really want to learn but it is very difficult for us to pay attention to our teachers because the school building is not in a good condition. But we try to come to school every day. It is hard for the girls in my school because we can’t come to school when we are menstruating. We stay at home because it is very embarrassing to go to school when there are no toilets for us to use. My school does not have any toilets and the building is collapsing. We are scared because it looks like the roof is going to fall. When it rains we have to run to save our books because the roof leaks very badly.
Visiting the mud schools
In 2011, the LRC reached an out-of-court settlement agreement with the DBE to eradicate all mud schools in the province. This was good news for about 50 schools whose structures were replaced by new school buildings. However, the benefits did not reach Siyabonga’s school because the DBE did not have proper plans in place to identify the needy schools and replace them, even though the Department had sufficient funds. They did not communicate their plans for rolling out the programme. Some schools were left off the list completely and those that are on the list are not aware of the dates on which their school would be upgraded. Because of the poor planning, money dedicated to replacing mud schools is being taken away from this programme and reallocated to other provinces. This is a tragedy for schools like Siyabonga’s.
On 28th October 2013, the LRC team from the Grahamstown office visited our school. They took pictures of our school and the toilets. They told us about the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery (ASIDI) programme and how the government had set aside more than R6 billion to fix the mud schools in the Eastern Cape. The teachers told us that DBE had made promises to the school since 2003, so they did not believe that any change would come. The teachers and the principal had never heard of the ASIDI programme and did not know how it would work. There are over 300 mud schools in the area. I heard them say that these are not new promises, but they were interested because the LRC explained what kind of work it did.
The LRC told my school principal that it would ask the courts to force the DBE to produce the plan so that schools like mine would know whether not they were going to be fixed and when. Then our community can plan properly. We still go to school. It’s the law. But the DBE seems to think its fine for us not to have toilets and classrooms that are crumbling. We don’t know if our school will be fixed, but we will continue to attend as much as possible.
What makes a good school? Is it good teachers, textbooks? Does the actual building of a school matter? Does Siyabonga have the right to expect a strong, steady and safe building as part of her right to basic education? While the challenges of learning in a mud school do not affect the majority of leaners in South Africa, a large number of children in the distant corners of the Eastern Cape struggle to get an adequate education. The LRC will continue to monitor the situation and take action when necessary.
By: Talita Mshweshwe
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