From 23-26 April 2013 Archbishop Thabo Makgoba lead a delegation of eminent South Africans on an Eastern Cape Schools Solidarity Visit. The Solidarity Visit was held in anticipation of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga publishing Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure on 15 May 2013. The delegates were able to witness the extent of the infrastructure crisis and draw attention to the urgent need for infrastructure regulations.
The delegates on the Solidarity Visit included: Elinor Sisulu, writer, human rights activist and political analyst; Janet Love, Commissioner of the South African Human Rights Commission and Director of the LRC; Sindiwe Magona, writer and women’s activist; Professor Njabulo Ndebele, writer and academic; Lindiwe Mokate, Commissioner of the South African Human Rights Commission; Zakes Mda, novelist, poet and playwright; Graeme Bloch, researcher and education analyst; Professor Pierre de Vos, constitutional law scholar. They were accompanied by a group of EE staff led by EE General Secretary Brad Brockman, education scholars Nic Spaull (University of Stellenbosch) and Kim Porteus (Nelson Mandela Institute) and education lawyer Cameron McConnachie (Legal Resources Centre). McConnachie played a huge role in assisting Equal Education with organising the Solidarity Visit.
On the first day of the Solidarity Visit the delegates visited two schools: Putuma Junior School and Sea View High School. Putuma Junior School is 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.
Sea View High School in Mqanduli is in a state of disrepair. There are not enough long drop toilets for learners or teachers and the ones that worked were in a terrible condition. The school functions without access to running water or electricity. In desperation the community resorted to building its own classrooms to accommodate the learners.
Media coverage of the first day of the Solidarity Visit:
Is this freedom?, The Times, Nashira Davids
Eastern Cape's Forgotten Schools: Day 1, Mail and Guardian, Julian Kesler
110 learners in one Eastern Cape School, GroundUp, Mary-Anne Gontsana
Our children are being taught in pigsties – Archbishop, City Press, Lubabalo Ngcukana
On the second day of the Solidarity Visit the delegation visited four schools: Ntapane Senior Secondary School, Ngangelizwe High School, Samson Senior Primary School and Nomandla Senior Primary School.
Ntapane Senior Secondary School has 836 learners from Grade R – 9. They are in desperate need of more classrooms to reduce their overcrowding. Delegates visited a Grade 9 class with 135 learners in it. The school does not have adequate sanitation facilities and only has one tap. Professor Njabulo Ndebele, a writer and academic, was shocked by the overcrowding in the school. "There was a great deal of overcrowding. In other words, the spaces between the desks – you can’t even go through. Contact between the teacher and the student, particularly those that are right in the back of the class, is almost impossible. The teacher can’t move around because the kids are bunched up together. The sense of overcrowding is palpable,” he said.
Ngangelizwe High School's toilet facilities are in a state of disrepair. There is no toilet paper and there are no hand basins. Many of the pit latrines don’t have doors. The school has replaced some of the missing doors with plastic sheeting. Learners take turns holding the plastic sheeting closed for each other when they go to the toilet.
Samson Senior Primary School is in the Libode Education District, 40kms outside of Mthatha. There are 230 learners and 5 teachers, including the principal. The school submitted a supporting affidavit towards the EE court case for Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure in 2012. The school does not have access to water as the water tanks were damaged by a storm. If learners want water they have to walk 5 kilometres to the nearest tap.
The last school the delegates visited was Nomandla Senior Primary School. The school has recently been rebuilt. However, it has not been handed over to the community. Delegates found learners still attending classes in temporary structures. The impressive new structure showed the delegates how high quality school infrastructure can be provided to learners in rural areas.
The Solidarity Visit was well documented on social media. Both @equal_education and #solidarityvisit trended nationally.
Media coverage of the second day of the Solidarity Visit:
Education at the school of pimples and faeces, The Times, Nashira Davids
Why do learners have to use toilets that look like this?, GroundUp, Mary-Anne Gontsana
On the third day of the Solidarity Visit the delegates met with officials from the Eastern Cape education department in Mthatha, including its deputy director-general Sithembele Zibi. The delegates asked the officials questions about what they had seen. When asked how much money they would need to improve school infrastructure in the province they said minimum functionality will cost R28-billion, while optimal functionality is R49-billion and pure basic safety is R9-billion. The department officials thanked Equal Education for their interest in the school infrastructure crisis.
That night Zakes Mda, Sindiwe Magona and Professor Njabulo Ndebele spoke at The Book Lounge in Cape Town. The event, REFLECTIONS ON OUR FUTURE: Schools in the Eastern Cape, allowed the delegates to reflect on the Solidarity Visit and answer questions.
Media coverage of the third day of the Solidarity Visit:
Writers and leaders talk about terrible conditions in schools, GroundUp, Mary-Anne Gontsana
It's not a democracy if our children aren't equal, Daily Maverick, Pierre de Vos
A school journey into Eastern Cape's darkest heart, Daily Maverick, Mandy De Waal
School toilets in shocking state, Health-e, Anso Thom
South Africa's forgotten schools - in pictures, The Guardian, Sydelle WIllow Smith
'Dire' conditions at schools, The New Age, Michael Appel
On May 15 Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will publish the final versions of the minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure. These regulations, if tangible and connected to deadlines, could transform the lives of learners and teachers not only in the Eastern Cape but across the whole country.