Braving rain, wind, bees and snakes because their school is too dangerous to learn in
Pupils at Makangwane Secondary are studying under trees because their school building is falling apart
Petronella Hlako has given up all hope of achieving top results in this year’s matric exams.
Since the end of last month, the leafy branches of the Mophurapudi tree, as it is known in Sepedi, have been her classroom.
She and 149 other pupils from Makangwane Secondary in the dusty hamlet of Non-Parella in Bochum, Limpopo, have been forced to study under trees because the crumbling walls of their school are in danger of collapsing.
Villagers of Non-Parella, as well as those from neighbouring Swartz, have dug in their heels and vowed not to allow their children to attend classes in the dilapidated buildings until the Limpopo education department provides mobile classrooms.
They are also demanding that the department relocate the school to a new site.Francina Mathekga, chairperson of the school governing body, said departmental officials claimed their request for mobile classrooms had not reached them, despite it being sent in 2016.
In another letter dated March 30, 2017, Mathekga complained to the department about the dilapidated buildings and “the frequent visibility of dangerous snakes”.
She wrote: “In 2016 you promised to relocate the school to new site identified by the community and to provide mobile classrooms after parents withdrew their children from the school but nothing has happened.”
The community has informed the department about the school’s crumbling infrastructure on nine occasions dating back to May 25 1989.
She said two department officials saw the children being taught under trees when they visited the school on January 31 and February 1.
“One of them promised we will get mobile classrooms but they did not specify on which date it will come. But this is not the first time they promised us this. Parents are very disappointed with the department.”Meanwhile, 18-year-old Hlako and her 27 classmates have been braving sizzling hot temperatures, heavy rains and howling winds over the past 11 school days, in their quest to get an education.
Their open-air classroom does not have a chalkboard and three pupils are forced to share a rickety desk. They are forced to relieve themselves in nearby bushes.
A huge ant mound occupies pride of place in their makeshift classroom.
Hlako’s teachers must speak very loudly to be heard over the bleating goats and braying donkeys that often stray into the space.
Pupils are also constantly looking out for bees and dozens of pupils have already been stung.
Said Hlako: “I feel so disappointed. I am pleading with the department to supply us with mobile classrooms so we can study properly. We can’t learn under trees.”
But she said returning to the old school building was “too risky”.The cracks in the walls of some of the classrooms are so big they can be seen through. The floors have huge, gaping holes and doors are missing in several classrooms.
Hlako’s classmate, Timothy Teffo, 21, said it was difficult concentrating in class because the absence of a chalkboard meant teachers could not write down notes.
Only the grade 8 class has a chalkboard.
“Studying under trees is definitely going to have a negative effect on our performance in the exams. But we are determined to stay here until mobile classrooms are provided.”
Agnes Mokoena, 45, whose two children attend Makangwane Secondary, said the children were terrified of snakes that had infested the area.“Some days it's so windy pupils can’t even hold up their books. We are hoping the department will answer our prayers by providing mobile classrooms,” she said.
Limpopo education department spokesman Sam Makondo confirmed that the community had asked for the school to be relocated to a new site.“Such a process is underway. The department is exploring options of relocating mobile classrooms from nearby schools where new schools have been built so the school is assisted as a temporary measure.”
He said there were infrastructure backlogs which the department was addressing every financial year.
“These backlogs are worsened by schools that are damaged by storms and need immediate attention.”