By Dr Rishigen Viranna, MPL, Member of the DA Caucus in the KZN Legislature:
THE closure of a South Coast school by its own governing body, due to dangerous infrastructure, was this week averted at the 11th hour with education officials announcing the building of a new R25million school next year.
The announcement comes after many years of pleading by Merlewood Primary School’s SGB to district education officials to have numerous serious defects attended to in the interests of learners’ safety.
The announcement also coincided with a schools’ functionality oversight visit by KZN MPL’s.
Merlewood Primary, based in Port Shepstone, is some 50 years old and has more than 1 000 learners. It has faced more than its fair share of challenges over the years, first being forced to move from its original position in town to its current site as a result of the Group Areas Act and later being left to disintegrate into an infrastructure nightmare.
Last month the SGB approached the DA for assistance. During a subsequent oversight visit by Ugu Constituency MPL, Dr Rishigen Viranna and Councillor Ajith Rajaram, it was found that;
– Some of the classrooms are still temporary prefabs constructed of plywood
– Electrical wiring was exposed
– Insulation was done with asbestos, creating a health hazard
– There were serious drainage issues on the property
The DA also discovered severe sanitation problems with leaking and blocked toilets. The ceilings in the toilets were collapsing while the roof leaked, creating stagnant pools of water on the floor.
Following the visit, the DA submitted written parliamentary questions to KZN Public Works MEC, Ravi Pillay, asking for answers as to why the school had been allowed to fall into such disrepair.
This weeks’ schools’ functionality visits to the area, attended by the DA’s Mark Steele, saw a meeting between education district officials and parents at which an assurance was made that a new school would be built, with construction due to start in January 2016 and completion set for June 2017.
The DA welcomes this commitment which comes after years of empty promises to the community and ultimately pressure by the DA.
In the interim though, something must also be done about the current conditions. It is untenable that any child or teacher should have to attend school under such circumstances for the next year.
The DA expects KZN Education MEC, Peggy Nkonyeni to intervene and visit Merlewood Primary to see the state of the school for herself. We expect her to take steps to hold local education officials responsible – it is clear that this situation has been left to fester for years on end by an administration that simply does not care.