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Eastern Cape Schools Solidarity Visit: delegates find learners using concrete building blocks as chairs

Today marked the first day of the Eastern Cape Schools Solidarity Visit. A group of eminent South Africans, led by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, visited two desperate Eastern Cape schools. They encountered gross overcrowding, deplorable ablution facilities and furniture and textbook shortages. The Solidarity Visit is being held to draw attention to the school infrastructure crisis in the Eastern Cape and the need for Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.

Eastern Cape Schools Solidarity Visit

The Solidarity Visit is being held in the lead up to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga publishing Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.  Equal Education (EE) campaigned for two years and instigated legal action against Minister Motshekga before she agreed to set the regulations, due to be published on or before 15 May 2013. The regulations will set a minimum standard for infrastructure that all schools will have to meet. These regulations will set standards for sanitation, electricity, water, class sizes, security, libraries and computer centres, amongst other things.

The delegates on the Solidarity Visit include: Elinor Sisulu, Janet Love, Sindiwe Magona, Professor Njabulo Ndebele, Lindiwe Mokate, Zakes Mda, Graeme Bloch and Professor Pierre de Vos. They were accompanied by a group of EE staff, education scholars Nic Spaull (University of Stellenbosch) and Kim Porteus (Nelson Mandela Institute) and education lawyer Cameron McConnachie (Legal Resources Centre).

Lindiwe Mokate, who spent 18 years in exile and served as CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission, explained her shock at the conditions of the school infrastructure they saw: “What we have seen here is not what we bargained for and it’s not because we didn’t know there were problems. We knew we would see a lot that needed to be fixed but the extent is something that shocked us. The conditions under which children are expected to learn and the dangers that we have seen within the classrooms are something we could never have imagined before we came here.

Putuma Junior School

The first school visited by the delegation was Putuma Junior School in the Mbhashe municipality. Delegates found the school grossly overcrowded. A Grade 9 class had over 100 learners. In one classroom delegates observed learners using concrete building blocks as chairs because the school does not have enough furniture.

Pierre de Vos shared his thoughts on the conditions at Putuma Junior School: “I was struck again by how personally privileged I am and the school I went to was compared to the facilities here. And I was thinking where would I be today if I went to this school with 100 other pupils in the same class? I wouldn’t have been here today. How do we change this? And why is it that not more is done to change it? Why isn’t there more political will to do everything that is humanly possible to address the school infrastructure problem? I don’t have an answer for that. I am gobsmacked that the Minister of Basic Education doesn’t lie awake every night worrying about the fact that every child is not getting a proper education.”

Sea View High

The Solidarity Visit delegates found Sea View High School, in Mqanduli, in a state of disrepair. There were not enough long drop toilets for learners or teachers and the ones that worked were in a terrible condition. Many of the roofs were broken, numerous windows were broken and the school does not have running water or electricity. In desperation the community resorted to building its own classrooms to accommodate the learners.

Dmitri Holtzman, Director of the Equal Education Law Centre, described the conditions at the school: “The additional classrooms which were built by the community itself and not the department are not finished and are open to the elements. They are not conducive at all for anybody to be taught in. It was quite disappointing to hear that the school only has two permanent teachers despite the fact that according to post provisioning norms they should have at least 15. All of this is reflected in their 13% matric pass rate last year. It shouldn’t be surprising to anybody when you consider the conditions. Somebody from the department should come visit this school and answer as to why the school continues to be under these conditions.”

Evening of Reflection

Over the next two days the delegates will continue to visit schools and interact with teachers, learners and parents. The Solidarity Visit will conclude with an Evening of Reflection this Friday 26 April at the Book Lounge in Roeland Street, Cape Town. It is scheduled for 6:30pm. Zakes Mda, Sindiwe Mangona and Professor Njabulo Ndebele will speak about their experiences, thoughts and impressions of the solidarity visit.

For more information please contact

Yoliswa Dwane (EE Chairperson) on 072 342 7747/ 021 387 0022

Brad Brockman (EE General Secretary): 072 267 8489

Julian Kesler (Solidarity Visit Organiser): 082 908 6949

Kate Wilkinson (EE Media Officer):  082 326 5353/


Carla GoldsteinEastern Cape Schools Solidarity Visit: delegates find learners using concrete building blocks as chairs