The first day of school was marked by chaos at Mayibuye Primary School in Midrand, east of Johannesburg.
The school was on Wednesday due to be officially reopened by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi, and education MEC Matome Chiloane.
However, the government officials abandoned the reopening ceremony as the school was a muddy construction site, posing a danger to pupils, teachers, parents and guests.
Instead, the event was moved to Kgatoentle Secondary School in Ga-Rankuwa, north of Pretoria, where Motshekga and Chiloane presided over the ceremony.
The old school in Midrand, comprising dilapidated mobile classrooms, was also not ready to welcome back 1 900 pupils for the 2024 academic year.
Parents were advised to return home with their children or fetch them at 10am.
“If I could, I would even advise parents to keep their children at home for the rest of this week,” principal Kgabo Rammutla told parents who gathered outside the school gates.
“But I don’t have those powers. The children will be allowed at school until 10am for the rest of the week.”
Confused little faces
It was a sad day for confused first-time school goers in spanking new uniform. This as scores of frustrated parents sought answers to questions fielded to the principal.
These ranged from late registration and admission, to concerns about the safety of children amid the chaos.
“They will be safe inside the school gates,” said Rammutla, but reiterated his announcement that classes will end at 10am.
Motshekga, Lesufi and Chiloane’s change of plan was not communicated to parents, who reported at the new school with wide-eyed kids ready to start school and those in higher grades visibly disappointed that their school was still incomplete.
“We collected stationery from the old premises on Tuesday at 9am but [there was] no communication that the school is not ready for tomorrow,” said one parent.
Even some of the invited stakeholders, such as corporates, and distinguished guests were not informed of a change of plan by Motshekga and Chiloane.
Contractors hard work
Vuyo Mhaga from Lesufi’s office said the premier was assured by contractors that the school would be ready for the start of the new academic year, noting that the rain played a big role in delaying construction.
Mhaga said the contractors are concerned that the main entrance is not yet ready.
“The major work where teaching and learning will take place is done. Only the outside of the school in incomplete,” he said.
On January 14, Sunday World reported that the education department in Gauteng was racing against time to complete construction at the school.
This after the publication visited the school on January 10.
The school was a hive of activity at the time, as Chiloane and his head of department Rufus Mmutlana were joined by Lesufi to inspect progress of construction ahead of the opening of schools today.
The school has been a great source of consternation in the community.
It was constructed in 2017 at a cost of R82-million but was found to be unsafe for occupation because of leaking sewer pipes nearby.
It was initially alleged that it was built in a waterlogged area.
Leaking sewer line
However, an assessment by the South African Human Rights Commission in 2020 found that it was not built on a wetland, but rather adjacent a leaking sewer line that spilled into the school.
The Gauteng government spent close to R3-million from late 2023 to solve the problem of relocating the sewer pipes and fixing the leaks.
Chiloane said last week that only grades 2 and 3 will remain at the old site until mobile classrooms were erected at the school. “This will happen by the end of January,” he said.
He added that the school will be completed by the end of March, which will include the building of additional classrooms.
The new building has a hall and a library, and there are plans to add sporting facilities either in the adjacent land owned by the city or at the old site.