It’s the first day of the new term and eager young pupils at Megatong Primary School in Soweto gather in the school yard on Monday morning, oblivious to the uphill battle their teachers and parents have to face keep the dilapidated facility open.
The school, which has 130 pupils from grade one to seven, is falling apart.
Not far from them is a paperless school, launched earlier this year by the Gauteng education department as part of its “smart school” initiative. Paperless schools are dumping the chalkboard for technology, and pupils are given tablets to work from.
But back at Megatong, windows are broken, light fixtures are falling from the ceilings, and many classrooms have gaping holes.
A cold breeze blows through the bathroom, where there are no sinks or taps and the majority of the toilets are broken. Those that are working are dirty and there is no toilet paper.
“It is horrible,” said a grandparent, who herself attended the school as a child. “You see the doors. These are small kids, it’s cold, it’s winter. You can see the toilet. Even me, I can’t sit on that toilet.
“We volunteer here… I was a student here … today I am a veteran. That is why I am fighting for this school. It is my legacy.”
According to a senior member of staff, who did not want to be named, the school has not received a budget since 2011.
It currently has four teachers and three volunteers. Teachers were not paid last year and only received a salary in May this year, which was back paid to January 2015, they claimed.
In 2008, the Gauteng education department announced that Megatong Primary would merge with Sediba-Thuto Primary School in the same area. However, this never happened.
The teachers were told to report to Sediba-Thuto Primary, even though children were still attending Megatong.
A teacher said parents were confused, and did not know where they should send their children.
Eventually, teachers continued to teach at Megatong without receiving a salary.
The Democratic Alliance sent questions last month to Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi regarding the state of the school.
In a written reply to the DA’s questions, Lesufi indicated the school would not be allocated a budget because it had merged with Sediba-Thuto.
It was also revealed that the department spent almost R1m on two private security companies to guard Megatong Primary School.
However, parents and the school governing body claimed the private security guards were only patrolling the school when the children were not there during holidays.
This has raised further questions from the school governing body, the parents and teachers.
Teachers and parents said Lesufi visited the school on 1 July and told them the school would be allowed to operate again.
They said he also promised to fix the toilets at the school during the June school holidays, but on the first day back, things were still the same.
The Gauteng department had not responded to questions.
Lesufi released the findings of a sanitation report in a meeting with grade 12 pupils who attend schools in Soweto on Monday afternoon.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane and DA MPL Khume Ramulifho visited Megatong Primary on Monday morning.
At 7.30am, the children were gathered in the school courtyard, where they were welcomed back to school by the principal. They said their morning prayer, and sang as they made their way to their cold, draughty classrooms.
Parents and grandparents stood on the sidelines watching. They are the ones who are trying to raise money to improve the school their children attend.
One parent said she blames the provincial department for the state of the school. “It is what the department has done. They haven’t treated us well. We don’t have trust in our government because they are promising and they don’t deliver.”
After watching the children line up, ready to attend class, Maimane — who grew up in Soweto — said it reminded him of his own school days.
“It disturbs me at a human level. You don’t find the department assisting. At a human level it must affect you. For many South Africans, apartheid education was dehumanising. This is in many ways [the same]… We can’t be living like this in the 21st century.”
Maimane and Ramulifho promised parents they would address the matter in the Gauteng legislature and in parliament. — News24