Overflowing raw sewage has forced the closure of Pescodia High School in Kimberley with hundreds of pupils sent home on Tuesday.
By late afternoon on Tuesday it seemed that the school would remain closed again on Wednesday.
The Northern Cape Department of Education on Tuesday blamed the Sol Plaatje Municipality for failure to maintain and repair the city’s infrastructure as raw sewage flooded the school’s premises.
Teachers, pupils and parents of the school were met by closed gates on Tuesday morning, after the stench and potential health risks posed by the wastewater overflowing from various drains on the school grounds resulted in a decision to shut the school.
Spokesperson for Pescodia High School’s governing body (SGB), Alice Badenhorst, said that while similar issues had been an annual occurrence for a number of years, the stench this week was worse than ever before, resulting in a decision to send pupils and teachers home.
As parents and pupils waited outside the locked school gates, a meeting between the various role-players saw the issue resolved, for the time being.
However, Badenhorst said that a more permanent solution was needed so that pupils did not lose any more class time, with exams scheduled to commence in the near future.
“They (Sol Plaatje Municipality) are busy pumping the water at the moment but the smell is still absolutely terrible,” said Badenhorst on Tuesday afternoon.
“We were able to come up with a short-term solution and the municipality has promised that all the water will be dried up and chemicals will be used to address the stench.”
Badenhorst said that the decision to close the school on Tuesday morning had been taken by the SGB on Monday afternoon, adding that everything was on track for classes to continue, as per usual, this morning.
“This is happening every year,” she said. “Last year, the Department of Education did its bit, but this time the problem is worse than ever before.
“Teachers and pupils are getting sick. It is a short-term solution and exams are around the corner. Our grade 12s are supposed to write exams right next to where this foul, contaminated water is bubbling up.
“Apart from the headaches and dizziness experienced by pupils and staff, they are being exposed to other major health risks and we needed to take action. That is why we had a meeting and decided to shut the school until the problem has been resolved.”
While the SGB was hoping to reopen the school this morning, its optimism proved short lived when the pump that was removing the water broke on Tuesday afternoon.
“The smell is worse than before,” said the SGB spokesperson late yesterday afternoon. “More water has been pumped into the yard as we speak.
“There will be no school tomorrow (today) or any other day until the matter is resolved.”
Spokesperson for the provincial Department of Education , Lehuma Ntuane, said that the department had raised concerns over this issue with the municipality on a number of previous occasions.
He pointed out that while the problem was proving detrimental to education, it required a resolution from local government as it related to the repairs and maintenance of infrastructure in the area.
“We have been trying to get the municipality to come up with a solution as we simply cannot expect children to learn in such an environment,” Ntuane said. “If this matter doesn’t receive urgent attention, we could have a disaster on our hands.
“We had a similar issue in 2015. However, the problem is not at the school but is being caused by blocked pipes in the vicinity.
“Residents in the area have also complained about the same problem as it is impacting on the community at large.”
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the DA in the Northern Cape, Safiya Stanfley, said that the sewage problems at the school stemmed from unapproved construction work on the sewage system, adding that staff and pupils were risking their health by attending school.
Putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the provincial Department of Education and the Sol Plaatje Municipality, she called for local and provincial government to intervene as a matter of urgency.
“The DA urges the Department of Education to work with the Sol Plaatje Municipality to find a long-term solution to the ongoing sewage problems at the school,” Stanfley said on Tuesday.
“The department reportedly allowed construction to take place at the school without first submitting proper building plans to the municipality for approval. In the construction process, sewage lines were blocked.”
“As a result, the school has a major sanitation crisis on its hands. The overflowing of sewage poses a severe health risk to the pupils, educators and the community as a whole.”
Stanfley said that the municipality should assist in the short term by unblocking the sewage pipes, but a long-term solution was needed to rectify the situation.
“The health and safety of our pupils must be one of our first concerns in ensuring that all pupils have access to quality education.”
No response to media enquiries had been received from the Sol Plaatje Municipality by the time of going to press.