SAHRC keeping an eye on repairs at Free State schools

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which identified issues that infringed on Free State pupils’ rights to education and safety, including dilapidated buildings at risk of collapse, met with the province’s education department this week to discuss progress on corrective measures.

The commission, led by provincial commissioner Henk Boshoff, first visited some schools in all five education districts in the province in January as part of a project to assess the readiness of the education department for the start of the 2024 year and found prevalences of infrastructure, sanitation, overcrowding and safety problems.

The schools visited by the commission include Botlehadi Primary School, Bloemfontein Primary School, Ruang Tsebo Primary School, Mariasdal Combined School and Tshomarelo Primary School.

During its visit, the commission discovered that Bloemfontein Primary School, located in the Motheo district, required structural renovations.

Some of the buildings were at risk of collapsing and causing harm or death to staff and pupils.

The commission deemed Mariasdal Combined School in Thaba Nchu not conducive to teaching and learning for staff and pupils. The commission said the buildings were not sufficiently insulated and did not have load-shedding mitigation resources in place. It said the buildings also required renovations to ensure pupils would not fall off balconies or stairs.

The commission’s acting provincial manager Thonoko Modise said a report on commission’s findings was shared with education MEC Makalo Mohale. Modise said a meeting was held on February 19 to discuss an action plan to deal with the issues.

In a bid to address the issues, the department said it has appointed the Development Bank of Southern Africa as an implementing agent to deal with structural defects at 30 schools in the province.

“Bloemfontein Primary School is one of these schools. The assessment resulted in assurance that pupils and teachers were not in danger of buildings collapsing. The engineers, however, recommended restorative processes to prevent further damage and safeguard the facilities,” the department told the commission.

A contractor will be appointed by early next month.

Additionally, the department stated that it was working on a condition assessment at Mariasdal and expected to finalise the contractor’s appointment by June. “The scope of work will include major refurbishment of the building and the installation of a standby generator,” the department said.

Regarding Botlehadi Primary School, the education department said it was relocating two mobile facilities from another school and delivering them next month.

Regarding the danger that the pupils at Botlehadi face when crossing a stream teeming with raw sewer, the education department said it had reported the matter to the municipality several times.

At Thabo Mofutsanyane, the commission reported that the infrastructure at the three-year-old Ruang Tsebo Primary in Clocolan was already collapsing.

“Ceilings are caving in, and the building foundations appear to be separating from the building structure. The plumbing is also not working.”

Meanwhile, in the Lejweleputswa district, the commission found that Tshomarelo Primary School has a building that poses a safety risk: “A pillar supporting the structure has bent and lost some bricks.”

The department said it was in the process of compiling specifications for the repairs at Ruang Tsebo and to install a reservoir that will be connected to the plumbing. It said the repairs at the Tshomarelo Primary School building were completed on March 26.

Modise said the commission will monitor the progress of the action plan.

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