No sign of promised R30 million Eastern Cape science centre

Cofimvaba schools were promised centre would open in March 2017

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Photo of empty field
There is no sign of any construction on the promised R30 million science centre at Cofimvaba. Photo: Manqulo Nyakombi

Seven months after construction was due to start, there is no sign of work on the R30 million Cofimvaba science centre promised by Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor in June last year.

Pandor, Deputy Minister of Education Enver Surty and then Mayor of Intsika Yethu Kholiswa Vimbayo launched the plan for a science centre next to Cofimvaba Senior Secondary School with a sod-turning ceremony followed by an imbizo at the school.

The science centre was to benefit 26 high schools in Cofimvaba and surrounding areas.

Pandor said construction would begin in August 2016 and the opening would be in March 2017.

Minister Naledi Pandor launched the science centre in June 2016. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

But with only a few weeks left before the scheduled opening, there is no sign of construction or even any preparation of the site for construction.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Science and Technology Lunga Ngqengelele said “unexpected developments” had delayed the start of construction when it was discovered that “the project site is [on] an environmentally sensitive area”. Various unforeseen approvals from various departments had become necessary in order to comply with regulations. He said construction of the science centre would resume “in the 2017/18 financial year”.

Intsika Yethu municipal spokesperson Zuko Tshangana said the municipality had been informed by the Science and Technology department and the Department of Education, who were the drivers of the project, that building would now only start in June 2017.

GroundUp visited the site this week and spoke to learners and teachers from local schools.

A grade 11 learner from Cofimvaba Senior Secondary School said hundreds of people, including officials and politicians had come to the imbizo, but when things did not go according to plan, these people were not to be seen.

“It’s been quiet since they left last year. To be honest, we are starting to doubt them,” she said.

Some learners said the promises were just part of a campaign for the local government elections. A learner from St James High said at the imbizo there were more people wearing ANC T-shirts than there were parents.

“They got us because we voted for the ANC thinking that they were going to build us a science centre as promised,” she said.

Cofimvaba Senior Secondary School principal Noxolo Sabata said, “Officials from Intsika Yethu Municipality were here at our school in January to congratulate us on getting a 92% matric pass rate. They spoke about the science centre, but that was just talk.”

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TOPICS:  Education

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Letters

Dear Editor

In April 2013, the Intsika Yethu Local Municipality, under which Cofimvaba falls, donated a piece of land for a science centre. The land was 2 500m2, which was unfortunately not big enough to accommodate the envisaged science centre. In March 2015, the municipality provided an alternative site of just over 40 000 m2. This site, large enough for operational requirements, was where the sod-turning ceremony was held on 18 June 2016. The swapping of the sites resulted in some challenges, namely, a geotechnical investigation that found a high clay content at the identified site. This, therefore, would require removal of the at least 1 metre of top layer of the soil before the construction of the building.

In June 2016, the DST requested technical assistance from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to build an artificial wetland as part of the science centre to advance the teaching and learning of life and earth sciences. When the DEA's experts surveyed the project site in November 2016, it was discovered that the area demarcated for the science centre building was almost surrounded by actual wetlands. It was therefore necessary for the DST to comply with the legislation related to construction on the environmentally sensitive land. Clearance from the DEA has been secured, although it is still necessary to ensure that construction is done at an applicable distance from the water course. The process of obtaining final approval from the Department of Water and Sanitation is underway.

A revised building site plan has been submitted to the Intsika Yethu Municipal Planning Tribunal and construction will start in the 2017/18 financial year.

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