“Put the pens down,” Nosipho Cimi told teachers at Dunoon Primary School on Friday October 14, as other angry mothers stood behind her, demanding the school be closed until education authorities improve sanitation there.
The school principal responded by calling the police.
There was excited babble from the pupils as a group of about 10 mothers marched to each container classroom making sure they were locked.
They were adamant no classroom would remain open until the “Mshengu” toilets had been fixed.
There are only two portable toilets on the school grounds for hundreds of pupils and the school’s staff. When Tabletalk visited the school on Friday, only one of those toilets was available. The other one was locked, and it wasn’t clear why.
Parents are worried the unhygienic situation will make their children sick. They’re also unhappy that there are not specific
toilets for girls and boys, arguing that girls in the younger grades risk being preyed on by older boys.
“We think the school must be closed down until the department can tell us the risk to our kids using the Mshengu toilets. The principal is inside and doesn’t want to speak to us,” said Ms Cimi as she marched through the classrooms.
“He is in charge of the school, and he is not coming out. It is unprofessional; he said that he is waiting on the cops.”
Ms Cimi said her daughter had recently been locked inside one of the portable toilets and had screamed for help until nearby fruit sellers hearing her cries freed her.
Ms Cimi said she had complained to the principal about the poor sanitation at the school, but he fobbed her off and told her to deal with the education department.
Thabisa Pefile said she had also tried to complain to the principal.
“He said he doesn’t want to see me, I don’t know why.”
When the police arrived at the school just after noon to defuse the situation, one of the mothers, Olicia Magwaxaza, told them another child had been locked in the toilets that very morning.
The situation is made all the more tragic by the fact that there is a new R64 million school standing empty next door to the cramped container classrooms and overflowing toilets that Dunoon Primary School pupils and staff have long had to endure. (“Dunoon school stands empty”, Tabletalk October 5).
The teachers and pupils can’t move into the new premises because it was found that the water pressure in the neighbourhood’s pipes is too low for the school to meet fire safety regulations.
In our earlier story, school principal Bongani Macikama admitted toilets at the old school were in a sad state.
However, on Friday he refused to speak to Tabletalk. When we tried again to get comment by phoning him, he ended the call.
Jessica Shelver, spokeswoman for Education MEC Debbie Schafer, said the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) had responded in detail to a letter from the school’s teachers complaining about the situation.
“The whole area is experiencing huge water pressure problems, including the school, apparently because of rapid population growth in Dunoon. The school needs good water pressure to operate the toilets and fire hydrants. They need to work properly to ensure the health and safety of learners and staff.”
Teachers had boycotted classes at the school on Monday October 17 and WCED officials met the principal and deputy principals to discuss the issue, said Ms Shelver.
“The department has asked the principal, the school management team and teachers to list their concerns regarding the mobile classrooms, and the district director promised to address these concerns as far as it is possible,” said Ms Shelver.
It would take several months to fix the water-pressure problem, and it was unlikely the WCED would take ownership of the new school before June next year, she said.
Pupils would have to continue using the existing facilities and City staff would respond immediately to clear blockages on the same day.