Scores of residents from Station Hill and Ndlovini prevented pupils from entering Station Hill Junior Secondary School last Thursday and Friday as they believe the building is too dangerous to be used as it is in a state of disrepair and parts might collapse.
Parents and other residents showed up early at the school last Thursday morning with clear intentions of not allowing their children access into the school premises.
The protest appeared peaceful and SAPS attended, but the demonstrators made it clear to Port Alfred head of detectives Colonel Yogan Raddy that they were not going to back down and disperse.
Speaking about their grievances, schooling governing body chairperson Bridgette du Plessis acknowledged the importance of education, but said her child’s safety was the first priority.
Du Plessis showed the TotT reporter a first floor walkway that had no supporting columns in some parts, while other columns were crumbling at the bottom. Other concerns were the visible cracks in the walkway. She further revealed that the walkway was vibrating and it was used by about 600-plus pupils walking between classes.
“Most of the buildings are falling apart. We had structural engineers who inspected the building and agreed that the buildings be renovated. A Public Works representative was here too and agreed that they must be fixed,” she said.
Because of the poor state of some of the buildings Grade 2 pupils are temporally the using school library, while another class uses the computer lab.
Still another class is temporarily using a structure meant as a place for pupils to have lunch. One side is covered by a net while two sides are open to the elements, which makes pupils vulnerable to wind and dust.
Du Plessis said the Education Department shared their sentiments, but its view was that the main building of the school needs to be renovated, but that this must be funded by the maintenance budget of the school. The SGB and parents disagree.
According to Du Plessis the maintenance budget which the school has is just a drop in the ocean, since much more renovation needs to done than the Department of Education believes.
“The department agreed that we need to renovate the walkway and balcony from the maintenance budget. But from our view that is not enough because balcony is not the only problem. We need also need to hire structural engineers,” she said.
Reddy’s efforts to convince the protestors that the gathering was unlawful fell on deaf ears.
“From the police side, our biggest concern is preventing the children coming into school creates another problem. We are not here to condemn things like this but we are here to advise the people as to the steps that make the protest action legal. Because we are the police we have to ensure the safety of the public and the people using the road,” Reddy said.
Willing to engage but not to back off, one of the parents Reverend Wandile Ngcobo said: “We are standing here as parents. I hope you do not have a child here in this school. I do not think that the pain you are feeling is the same as the pain we are feeling. We see things on television, schools falling down, so we do not want to experience that kind of situation here.”
The concerned parents revealed that one teacher was already booked on sick leave for six months and therefore their protest action was preventing more harm.
Asked for a comment on the matter, Eastern Cape education department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima asked to be forwarded the community’s grievances and promised to send them to the district where he said matters of this nature are handled.