Thirsting for excellence: Soweto school struggling to access water for 6 years

The Goza Primary School, which accommodates 1,400 pupils, has now been forced to largely come up with its own plans to make sure that those on site can at least survive on the bare minimum.

Goza Primary School in Soweto has been fighting for six years for access to safe drinking water on its premises, despite several promises by the Gauteng Department of Education to resolve the crisis. Picture: Abigail Javier/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG - A Soweto school has been fighting for six years for access to safe drinking water on its premises, despite several promises by the Gauteng Department of Education to resolve the crisis.

The Goza Primary School, which accommodates 1,400 pupils, has now been forced to largely come up with its own plans to make sure that those on site can at least survive on the bare minimum.

The pressure from the taps is either extremely low or nothing comes out at all.

In 2016, Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi visited the school and confirmed that it was not connected to the municipal water grid, but promised to have the matter sorted while appealing for patience.

"Awake and Excel” - this is the slogan for the Goza Primary School - but there are barriers to this excellence and it’s a daily struggle.

On a visit to the school, the health hazard is evident. Young children cannot flush toilets, let alone wash their hands properly. That’s because the water flow is severely restricted.

GALLERY: Promises unfulfilled: Soweto school struggles to access water for six years

More often than not, pupils are faced with the indignity of using nearby bushes for privacy when taps completely run dry.

Chairperson of the school governing body, Joseph Mchipisa, told Eyewitness News that they had been waiting to be added to the grid since the school opened its doors in 2014.

"Up until now, we only have Jojo tanks whereby they’re supplying us through a truck. At the beginning of the month, we sometimes don’t have water at all; the little we have, we have to use to flush toilets and drink. Those Jojo tanks are not cleaned, they were cleaned only once. When there's no water, usually the principal has to arrange that we knock off early."

Even the water from the Jojo tanks, which is not safe to drink, is often not enough and lasts only a few days.

Taking drastic measures to keep the school functioning, a small water pipe has also been connected to a neighbouring school for everyone to share the little that they have.

Lesufi said that it was not true that nothing had been done to help the school with its water supply issues.

The Gauteng Education Department has sought to clarify why Goza Primary School was still struggling with a steady supply of water, which also affected the use of ablution facilities.

Lesufi’s office said that the water connection could only be resolved when national government approved its rezoning plans.

Spokesperson Steve Mabona said that this process did not fall under their mandate and was facilitated by the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure.

He also stressed that the Education Department first sought help from the City of Joburg’s previous administration and Joburg Water, but these efforts came to nothing.

WATCH: Six years with no proper access to water – A Soweto school struggles for basic services

Lesufi’s department said that the main problem was with construction space, which resulted in the school being built on the same site as another facility, Somelulwazi Primary.

This, the department added, was the reason why Goza Primary did not have a water connection point and the land on which both institutions were built had to be subdivided.

But that plan had been years in the making.

Mabona explained the delay: “The provincial govt is unable to proceed with the subdivision of property and rezoning as there’s a need for proper documentation from the national government to release the said property. The national govt is not willing to release the land as per previous arrangement.”

Mabona has also provided Eyewitness News with documents to show that the department tried to fix the water issues by asking for help from then-Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba’s office, but that was in 2016. That’s also the last time Goza claimed that Lesufi visited the school with promises to resolve the matter.

In another letter dated 8 August 2019, the department reached out to Joburg Water for a temporary solution while the rezoning application was being dealt with.

Joburg has been under a new administration since late 2019 under Mayor Geoff Makhubo. The department said that it had addressed its concerns with the city but added that it still had challenges with Joburg Water.

Mabona said that the department was in no position to establish when Goza Primary would be connected to the municipal grid as this part was being handled by the provincial Department of Infrastructure and the national Department of Public Works.

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