Families desperately trying to keep Eastern Cape school alive
Built more than 70 years ago with mud bricks by villagers, Ixopo Junior Secondary School has been neglected by the education department
- Ixopo Junior Secondary School in Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape was built decades ago by villagers, using mud bricks and grass roofs.
- Since then the Eastern Cape Education Department has added brick classrooms and pit toilets.
- But the school is hopelessly overcrowded, with 60 learners to a class; the toilets are broken and smelly.
- Promises to fix the school’s problems have never been kept.
Nomfusi Phasani studied at Ixopo Junior Secondary School in Mount Frere as a child. Now 72, she is one of the villagers trying desperately to keep the school alive in the face of broken promises and neglect from the Eastern Cape Department of Education.
The school’s 534 learners are crammed into 11 classrooms with no electricity. The Grade R classes are taught in mud classrooms built by the villagers. The learners relieve themselves in filthy pit toilets and the school says it has no money to fix anything. In 2009 the Eastern Cape Department of Education promised the school a new brick building. But until now nothing has happened.
“I am 72 years old and this school is older than me,” Phasani told GroundUp. “I did my standard two at this school. It was built by the community with mud bricks and grass roofs. We changed the grass roof into zinc by making collections. Some of us brewed umqombothi and sold it to raise funds to buy the material.”
“But government has neglected our school ever since it was built.”
“I am worried because our old generation is dying and the new generation won’t save our school because they have no patience and don’t have the same vision about the future of our children. When our generation comes to an end our school will also be shut down because the department has neglected our school,” she said.
“The toilets are smelly and pose a huge risk to our children. I have three grandchildren who attend school here. The stories that I hear in the news about learners who drowned in pit toilets at school touches me because the same thing could happen to my grandchildren at this school.
Teachers say only three brick classrooms have been built by the department.
According to deputy principal Nokonwaba Mshweshwe seven villages depend on Ixopo Junior Secondary. Most of the classrooms are overcrowded and have about 60 learners. Classrooms are too dark because there is no electricity. “We cook the school nutrition for our learners in a leaking shack. On wet days our food gets damaged.”
“Since 2009 the Department of Education promised us a new school building but that has never happened. “
Mshweshwe says a contractor was sent to the school to build new toilets but left the project incomplete in 2019. “Initially we were promised flush toilets in order to replace the pit toilets. But that did not make sense to us because we have no sewage system.”
“The contractor first dug a big hole next to the old pit toilets. But it left that hole open and then built two blocks of toilets that consist of six toilets for boys, eight for girls and three for teachers. Each block was supposed to get a [water] tank in order to wash hands. But the tanks were never installed.
“As you can see for yourself the doors were very cheap. I think they cost less than R500 because they easily broke down. The ceiling peeled off from the roof. Toilets were also vandalised. The hole that the contractor left open is now full of water.”
Mshweshwe says the new toilets are filthy and the school has no money to clean them. “Some of the learners end up using the old pit toilets because the new toilets are full and smelly,” she said.
She said the school has reported all the problems to the Education District office in Alfred Nzo.
Grade R teacher Xoliswa Mtsibantu says teachers escort the learners to the toilets because they are scared they might use the old pit toilets and drown. “It’s painful to teach under these conditions. The classrooms are very cold and dark. We have been using cow dung to polish the floors since 2009, until 2019. On wet days water would seep through the floor until we put tiles on the floor.”
Asked about the toilets, provincial education department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said: “We will investigate the claims as the principals seemingly did not notify their District Directors about this.”
Mtima did not respond to further questions about conditions at Ixopo Junior Secondary School and plans to build new classrooms, and ignored our calls.
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