School site abandoned as contractor accuses education department of failing to pay

Meanwhile learners at Eyabantu Senior Secondary school in Fort Beaufort are crammed into tiny temporary classrooms

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One of the overcrowded classes at Eyabantu Senior Secondary school in Fort Beaufort. Photos: Mkhuseli Sizani

Pigs and cows graze at the abandoned site of the new R39-million Eyabantu Senior Secondary School in Fort Beaufort while the 451 learners are crammed into 12 tiny classrooms. The Eastern Cape Education Department says the building contractor left in 2020 during the Covid pandemic. But the contractor says the department failed to pay.

The old badly dilapidated building was demolished in 2019 with the understanding that a new school would be built soon after. But three years later, the site remains abandoned following disputes over payment between the department and the contractor.

According to the department, the contractor, Gordon Builders, built the foundations and then abandoned the project during the pandemic in 2020, leaving bricks and other material at the site.

Malibongwe Mtima, provincial education spokesperson said, “The project was put on halt due to Covid-19 national shutdown in March 2020. The contractor never came back to site. The project contract was R39-million.” He refused to answer questions about when new contractors would be appointed or about how much had been paid to the contractor.

The contractor, who asked only to be identified as Gordon Builders said, “The department defaulted on the contract that we signed with them and the Coega Development Agency. We gave them enough time to resolve the outstanding payment. But they failed to do that and we decided to terminate the contract.”

When asked how much Gordon Builders had been paid and what the department still owed the company, the contractor said, “I don’t want to divulge the amount we were owed. Direct your questions to Coega,” he said.

Coega has not responded to numerous attempts to contact them since 24 June.

School becomes grazing ground

Grass has grown over the abandoned foundations and animals graze on the site.

School Governing Body chair, Bongani Hani, said the contractor left the site only three months after it had been appointed by the Coega Development Agency which was the implementing agent for the project.

Former ward councillor Lunga Papu was part of the committee tasked with handling the rebuild project. “The contractor first built temporary structures for learners. It started laying the foundation but when it did not get payment, the company called a meeting to inform us that it was terminating the contract,” he said.

Grade 11 learner, Thembela Solomon, said their classrooms are overcrowded. “In Life Science class there are 59 learners and no space for a teacher to move. We cannot even use a desk to write notes. We have to put books on our legs in order to write. It’s hard to concentrate because it’s noisy,” she said.

A pile of bricks was left behind at the abandoned school site.

TOPICS:  Education

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