GroundUp visited schools in 2013 and went back last month. Here’s what they saw
Nine years after Zakes Mda and Thabo Makgoba were shocked by conditions in these Eastern Cape schools, there’s little sign of improvement.
This article first appeared in GroundUp.
In 2013, a delegation of eminent activists, academics, authors and political analysts including Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and author Zakes Mda joined Equal Education on a visit to several schools in the Eastern Cape. What they found was horrifying. Nearly 10 years later, GroundUp went back to four of the schools. Here’s what we found.
Lwazi Mantantana was in Grade 12 when Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba visited Nyangilizwe Senior Secondary School in Mthatha in 2013. The archbishop was part of a delegation led by Equal Education to highlight poor conditions in Eastern Cape schools. Today Mantantana is a teacher at the same school - and conditions if anything are even worse.
In 2013, the delegation found 23 teachers teaching 730 learners. Each matric class had 60 learners, according to principal Vuyani Zembe, and there was a shortage of textbooks. GroundUp accompanied the delegation, and we saw unfinished muddy classrooms, with no windows or doors, and eight toilets in an open field of grass. Plastic hung over some of the openings instead of doors.
IsiXhosa teacher Pateka Nkonki, said then that staff poured Jeyes Fluid into the toilets to get rid of the terrible smell. “We clean the toilets ourselves because no one is employed to do so.”
The school depended on two rain tanks for water. When there was no rain, and no water, learners were sent home.
Today, says Mantantana, classes have 80 learners or more. There are 10 pit toilets, with doors falling off. When the rain tanks are empty, the school has to buy water.
“When Archbishop Makgoba was here I was a Grade 12 learner. We were all excited that we will get a new school building but we still use the old school building. There are 13 classrooms that are shared by 1,173 learners. … In total we have 31 educators.”
“We also have a shortage of textbooks and desks. A single desk is shared by two or three learners.”
Mantantana says despite these challenges they are doing their best to improve their matric results. “From Monday to Sunday we have extra classes. In 2019 our matric pass rate was 59% then dropped to 53% in 2020. Last year it increased to 76%,” he said.
Grade 9 learner Zizipho Macobana says there are 86 learners in her classroom. “I can’t concentrate because there is too much noise.”
Learner Lathitha Majubana says, “Our toilets are filthy and we share them with boys. When we go to the toilet we escort one another. If you want to relieve yourself you have to ask another girl to hold the door for you because it is broken.”
The 2013 delegation included Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Zakes Mda, Sindiwe Magona, Njabulo Ndebele, Pierre de Vos, Lindiwe Mokate, Graeme Bloch, Janet Love and Elinor Sisulu. The aim of the visit was to raise national awareness about the schools infrastructure crisis and the need for quality Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. These regulations, were published soon after the visit, in November 2013, and set a minimum school infrastructure standard that all schools will have to meet. If schools don’t meet the standards then, at least in theory, communities are able to hold the government accountable.
But in spite of this, nine years since the visit, not much has changed in the schools we visited.
Overcrowding remains a major challenge. The classrooms typically have between 80 and 100 learners. Toilets are disgusting and dilapidated. Sometimes young children relieve themselves in open fields because the pit latrine toilets are too dangerous for them. Both mud and prefabricated classrooms are dilapidated.
There is often a shortage of teachers, school cleaners and textbooks. Vandalism has worsened the situation.
When GroundUp visited Putuma Junior Secondary School (JSS) in the Mbhashe municipality in 2013, there were 110 learners in Grade 9. The then deputy principal of the school, Zukile Gana said there were 24 teachers and 1,175 learners enrolled.
Some of the learners were sitting on concrete building blocks.
When we visited in April, deputy principal Thabisa Kalipa told GroundUp the children no longer sit on blocks. The department has provided enough desks and also brought three prefabricated classrooms. Two mobile classrooms and a library were provided by an organisation.
But overcrowding is still an issue. The school still has 24 teachers, and 15 classrooms are shared by 922 learners from Grade R to 9.
Kalipa says the school has been advised by the department to reduce their enrolment numbers. “But that is not easy because many schools were shut down.”
“The classes are overcrowded, noisy and there is no concentration. In fundamental subjects like maths and languages they lack the basics,” she said.
When GroundUp visited, younger learners were relieving themselves in an open field next to the classrooms while the teachers were busy with the lessons. Two blocks of flush toilets had been vandalised. Learners in Grades 5 to 9 were using the old pit latrine toilets which are full of weeds.
“The department also built us the new toilets but all have been vandalised. Learners have gone back to the old pit latrine toilets. They are filthy because the two cleaners can’t cope with the work overload and we don’t have enough funds to hire more cleaners.
“As for water, we depend on rain because our borehole is not functioning. When there is no rain, especially in winter, we buy water to keep our school nutrition going,” she said.
Not far from Putuma is another school in desperate need - Sea View Senior Secondary.
In 2013, this Grade 10 to 12 high school had 278 learners and eight teachers of which only two were permanent, according to principal Vukile Masinyana. “We are struggling to raise funds to finish a building which we want to turn into a classroom,” Masinyana said then.
In 2013 when GroundUp visited a Grade 12 classroom - a hall separated by a broken wooden sliding door - volunteer business studies teacher Bongeka Bhungane was writing the contents of a textbook on the blackboard because there were no textbooks available for the learners. One Grade 11 classroom had no teacher because she left after not getting paid.
When GroundUp returned to the school last month, there was still a shortage of textbooks and some teachers were photocopying textbooks.
Nolitha Sokwepa, deputy principal, told GroundUp that proper learning and teaching was difficult. “Our school is overcrowded. We have 799 learners in 11 classrooms. The school was built in 1995 with five brick classrooms. Four of them have leaking roofs. On wet days we have to move desks around. Parents built out of their pockets four additional classrooms and two prefabricated classrooms were donated.” One Grade 10 class had 101 learners and another 115 learners.
“In 2019 our matric pass rate was 62% then it dropped to 48% n 2020 and 47% in 2021.
“But we are conducting evening classes from 6pm until 10pm in order to improve these results,” Sokwepa said.
The learners’ toilets are buzzing with flies and the girls do not use them.
“We have ten pit toilets for learners and two for staff. But they are filthy and overflowing. Learners relieve themselves on the floor and boys pee against the wall. The girls relieve themselves in the tall grass next to those toilets.
“A new 26 toilets project started in August and was expected to be finished in November. But it stopped in February and I heard rumours that the contractor was not paid,” she said.
Geography teacher Thembakazi Matyala said: “We have a textbook crisis here. There are no textbooks for geography, physical science, business studies and agriculture. Even the local library has a shortage of textbooks.
“We spend most of the school’s budget photocopying school work for learners. It’s hard for learners to do research for their school projects.”
Grade 11 learner Sanelisiwe Sezelwa said: “I cannot concentrate in the classroom because it’s overcrowded, hot, noisy and dirty. If I sit at the back I cannot see the board because some of the learners sit closer to it.
“We relieve ourselves outside the toilets because they stink and we fear infections.” Her classmate Siyakhanya Zithathele says two months ago the door of the classroom was stolen and he sits next to the open doorway. “It’s hard to concentrate because it’s very cold in the morning.”
About 20km outside Mthatha is Ntapane Senior Secondary School. When GroundUp visited in 2013, one Grade 9 class had 138 learners. “We are really struggling,” said teacher Lulama Genge whose class had 102 learners. “There is just no space but we do the best we can. We cannot turn learners away and parents really like this school because it is a good one,” said Genge then.
“We are very disappointed because nothing has changed since that visit,” deputy principal Lakhe Pikiso told GroundUp in April. “Instead our school is faced with overcrowding, water and sanitation problems.
“We have 974 learners from Grade R to 9. They share 13 classrooms. Eight are made of brick and five are prefab. Each class has about 80 learners.
“The slow learners are the most affected because educators have no time to give them individual attention. It is also hard for educators to instill discipline in classrooms. There are too many disruptions because of the noise.
“We don’t even have playgrounds.”
“Textbooks are also not enough. The new ordering system for textbooks is working against the schools. … If we order 100 books they only send 20. Then we have to make a lot of photocopies,” he said.
He says the toilets are also a big problem.
“We have ten flush toilets and all of them are faulty. Six of those toilets are used by learners. We use buckets with water to flush them.
“Boys make use of the dilapidated pit latrine toilets in order to pee. Some of them urinate against the wall. Although it does not look good, it allows the girls to have privacy in flush toilets,” Pikiso said.
“Since last year our borehole has been faulty. We rely on harvesting rain water. But in winter we buy water in order to keep the school nutrition going,” Pikiso said.
Pikiso says a former learner has stepped in to rescue the school.
“In 2019 Sisa Ngebulana, our former learner and businessman, donated R1.5 million to build 8 classrooms. These classrooms will include a computer room, library and 40 flush toilets. The project is still in progress.
“We are very happy with his support because our expectations were raised for nothing by that 2013 Solidarity Visit,” he said.
Grade 9 learner Aphelele Nompalweni says he can’t use the filthy toilets.
“I’ve been studying here for two years and boys use these filthy pit toilets. We let girls and junior grades use the flush toilets. Then we pee against the wall or in the pit toilets. Some relieve themselves on the floor. But I taught myself not to poo in these pit toilets from 8am until 3pm because they are filthy.
Lathitha Mcasa, also in Grade 9 says, “I have been a learner here since grade 3 and our toilets are disgusting. When you walk to the toilet you must carefully look outside and inside because learners relieve themselves on the floor.”
THE DEPARTMENT’S RESPONSE
In response to questions from GroundUp, Malibongwe Mtima, spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Education, commented on the state of the schools.
On Ntapane Junior Secondary School: “During the 2016 -17 financial year seven prefabs were supplied to this school by the department. Currently there is a donation of ten new brick and mortar classrooms. The renovation of existing two blocks of classrooms has been donated by Sisa Ngebulana but due to Covid the progress is very slow. “
On Nyangilizwe Senior Secondary School: “During the 2017-18 financial year this school received prefabs from the department. During the last financial year towards the end of February a contractor was introduced to the school to provide water and sanitation which is still under construction.”
Mtima did not respond to our questions about Sea View Senior Secondary and Putuma Junior Secondary School.
I’m ashamed of my government, says Zakes Mda
_GroundUp asked Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and author Zakes Mda, who were both part of the 2013 delegation, to comment on our findings at the schools._
“The continuing shortfalls are very disheartening and bode badly for learning and teaching in those schools,” said Makgoba. “The dividends of democracy remain skewed and unequal for the rural black child.”
“Besides condemning the education department for such gross violations, this time I pledge, through the Archbishop Makgoba Development Trust , to get friends to help the schools to build toilet by toilet, school by school and village by village.”
Zakes Mda said “Of course, it is a disgrace if the schools we visited in 2013, and were in a disgusting state, continue to be in that state nine years later, and even worse.”
“I attended a mud school in the Eastern Cape when I was a kid decades ago at the height of apartheid. It was a rundown village church that accommodated three different classes with three different teachers at the same time. I was appalled when I found a worse situation in the Eastern Cape in 2013, after what we claim is liberation.”
“I am ashamed of my people and my government that the situation pertains to this day. We are setting those children to failure right from the beginning.
Only the toughest and the most resilient of them will amount to something and will compete effectively in the job market. This is the kind of education that perpetuates poverty,” said Mda.
Equal Education’s Eastern Cape organiser Itumeleng Mothlabane said learners suffered the “terrible consequences” of the slow provision of adequate infrastructure to Eastern Cape schools. Mothlabane said there was a lack of political will to deliver appropriate school infrastructure and a lack of capacity in the Eastern Cape Department of Education to monitor delivery.
“All these challenges contribute to the unacceptable state of infrastructure we find in our schools now, almost ten years after the legislation of the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure.”