Johannesburg – It is often said that education is the key to success and in a country where unemployment among the youth is at its all-time high, sitting at 63.3% in the first quarter of 2021, getting an education gives one a fighting chance amid South Africa’s unstable economy.
And while the aforementioned statement holds true for many who hunger for education, it is the pupils at Tshepo Ya Rona Secondary School who feel abandoned by the education system.
So much so that a group of disgruntled students interrupted classes two weeks ago, before taking to the streets where they further disrupted their neighbouring school, Zakariyya Park Combined School.
According to the group of matriculants who spoke to The Sunday Independent on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, countless requests had been made to the school’s management and the district, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
“When we reopened schools in February, we found out that the school had been broken into and they stole textbooks. We wrote a letter to the district to request study material, especially for the Grade 12 learners but three months down the line, we received no response,” said *Ntuthuko Zwane.
According to Zwane, a follow-up was done in April and they still have received no word from the district.
“Basically, we are on our own,” he said.
The school in question is located in Vlakfontein extension 2, just off the Golden Highway. It is made up of a block of mobile classrooms, non-flushing toilets that get suctioned regularly and the school relies on a water tank that gets refilled regularly.
Initially, it is said that Tshepo Ya Rona was meant to be a breakaway school for Zakariyya Park Combined School, where the latter’s primary school section would be relocated to Vlakfontein eight years ago. Judging by the school’s non-conducive teaching conditions, Zakariyya Park teachers fought against the move and it was shortly turned into the high school in question.
Inside the school premises, where you would normally find sports grounds is a frightening bush that almost encircles the classrooms.
Outside the school gates is an even scarier picture of life-threatening live wire connections that run from the transformer box that is located just outside the premises. The wires feed power into the informal settlement across the road, and the school sometimes gets power from the transformer illegally.
This past Friday when The Sunday Independent team visited the school, two men in their thirties were seen comfortably sitting on the school premises, among the bushes, smoking. When we asked two ladies about the two men, they simply referred to them as nyaope addicts.
Amid these horrendous conditions are Grade 8 to Grade 12 pupils from Vlakfontein, all eager to get an education to change their lives for the better.
Eighteen-year-old *Sizwe Mthungwa said he has a dream of obtaining a tertiary education, to be the first who graduates from a tertiary institution and, hopefully, change his family’s lives. But with these unchanging dire conditions facing the school, his hope of a better future fades daily.
“My school is supposed to equip me with skills that can help me contend for a better future outside this depressing community, but it isn’t the case here.
“I have been a student at Tshepo Ya Rona for five years now and with each passing year, you hope things will get better. You hope the department will remember that there is a school in Vlakfontein with deserving students – deserving of learning materials, of warm classrooms, lights, tablets and even textbooks that we haven’t received to date,” said the matriculant.
Mthungwa lives with his siblings and uncles, leading a hard life that he hopes to escape one day. He aspires to study film and television next year but to get his foot in the door, he emphasises how important it is for him to pass with flying colours to get the chance. “But what is the use?”
“The only engagement we have had since our forceful outcry was a delivery of exercise books to the school when in actual fact we need textbooks. It is so difficult trying to learn during such an important period of our schooling career. We are really struggling,” he added.
Another matriculant, who also asked not to be named, reckons the vicious cycle that befalls young people in his township will never end.
“Already our neighbourhood is riddled with crime, drugs and unemployment. Being here, in this township is depressing and all some of us want is an education that will give us a fighting chance in the big ugly world. But how are we expected to?
The situation at Tshepo Ya Rona is so dreadful that according to neighbours, break-ins have become a daily occurrence due to the school’s lack of security.
“During the hard lockdown, when schools were closed, I remember seeing a nyaope addict pushing an office chair casually down the road. As bizarre as that image is, it has become so normal in these parts of the world because it seems like no one respects the role that the school plays,” said a concerned parent Jeff Mofokeng. “I understand the children’s anger. The situation here is grim,” he added.
Gauteng Department Education spokesperson Steve Mabona said the department is aware of strikes “however, we believe that the action was ill-advised considering the efforts that the department has been engaging in to attend to the challenges facing the school, which were not caused by the department but rather by the theft of the learning and teaching support material (LTSM) earlier in the year,” he said.
To the pupils’ demands, Mabona said, “It needs to be understood that Tshepo Ya Rona is a Section 20 school, which means that the LTSM funds are managed by the Gauteng Department of Education. To meet its LTSM needs, the school has to complete requisitions, submit those to the head office and the LTSM is then procured through the GDE’s service provider, Bongani Rainmaker Logistics.
“Last year the school, correctly, procured its LTSM, including textbooks, learners’ stationery and office stationery to the value of R577 000. The material was delivered to the school. The school then experienced a burglary which led to shortages in LTSM. The district’s LTSM unit has, since being informed of the break-in, worked around the clock to help sort out the LTSM shortage.”
Mabona said the department has taken steps to assist the school through expediting the procurement to get the required LTSM, and have so far procured 697 pupils’ packs
The group of matriculants believe the above is not enough to create a conducive learning environment. “We need more,” they said collectively.