Police are investigating an arson case after a fire gutted the principal’s office at Marconi Beam Primary School just hours after an illegal school was closed in the area.
There are suspicions that the two incidents, given their timing, are linked, but the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) says it can’t say yet whether that is the case. It has, however, beefed up security at Marconi Beam Primary.
Khozi Primary, an unregistered school was started earlier this year by volunteer teachers in mobile classrooms that had served Sinenjongo High School pupils before they were moved into their new school building across the road.
One of the teachers, who did not want her name published, said law enforcement officers had come to Khozi Primary on Wednesday June 7, the day of the storm that closed schools across the province, and hauled away the mobile classrooms after showing residents a court order.
Then in the early hours of Thursday June 8, the fire broke out at nearby Marconi Beam Primary, leaving the principal’s office a smouldering ruin and destroying important pupil information.
Deputy principal Lumka Nqabeni said they were trying to salvage what they could from the burnt-out office.
“We save certain documents and information on the internet, so at least that information can be retrieved once we install the wi-fi again, but there were printouts and hard-copy documents that we kept in two lockable cabinets in the principal’s office and they were all burnt by the fire,” she said.
Parents of the Khozi Primary pupils had vowed to keep the school open, saying they had been unable to register their children elsewhere (“Pupils left in limbo,” Tabletalk, February 1).
Last month, frustrations with the WCED spilled into the streets where protesters demanded authorities recognise the school (“We just want them to register the school,” Tabletalk, May 10).
Parents accused the WCED of failing their children and argued that another school was needed in the community.
There were about 400 pupils at Khozi Primary by the time it was closed, but the school had had double that number when it opened.
The WCED said it was taking the fire at Marconi Beam very seriously.
“The department is aware of an arson attack on the administration block at Marconi Beam Primary School. The WCED has provided additional security at the school, and the police have increased their visibility in the area. We do not know if the arson attack is linked to the closure of the illegal school in Joe Slovo,” said Paddy Attwell, a spokesman for the department.
He said Khozi Primary parents had agreed to enrol their children at Marconi Beam and Tygerhof primary schools.
The department would investigate the need for another school in the area and, if possible, build one.
Milnerton police spokeswoman Captain Adriana Chandler confirmed that they were investigating an arson case although no arrests had been made at this time.
The City of Cape Town said there were no plans as yet for the site where Khozi Primary had stood. The WCED had leased the land from the City temporarily.
Ms Nqabeni said Marconi Beam Primary had accommodated 98 of Khozi Primary’s pupils. She said that apart from Marconi Beam and Tygerhof, the WCED had also given the Khozi Primary parents the option of sending their children to Silverleaf Primary in Dunoon.
“I believe those who came here (Marconi) are the ones who wanted to be here,” she said.
Meanwhile Noxolo Mayeki, from Joe Slovo Crisis and Residents’ Development Committee rejected any suggestion that residents were to blame for the fire.
“Why would we burn a school but some of our kids go to that school?
“All we want is a school here in Joe Slovo for the children. When the old Sinenjongo High School was moved across the road, we decided that the old site would be a very good place for a primary school. We need another primary school because Marconi Beam Primary doesn’t have space for all the children.”
Parents are not happy at all with the lack schools in the area.
Nosandise Qwase is a mother of a child who attended Khozi Primary.
“My child doesn’t have a school now. He was doing Grade 8 at Khozi Primary because the school is from Grade 1 to Grade 8. I am really disappointed in the school system because a lot of our children are in the streets because they don’t have a school.
“It’s difficult for us because we fear for them. Children start smoking drugs and some get raped because they are in the streets and not in classrooms,” she said.
* Anyone with information about the fire can contact investigating officer Warrant Officer Seherie at 021 528 3844 or Crime Stop at 08600 10111.