Mon, 24 Feb 2020

A R77m project to rebuild a Uitenhage school has been stalled since 2018, apparently because the Eastern Cape Department of Education is not paying the bills.

Bags of cement, floor tiles, bricks and other building materials are strewn around the grounds of Jubilee Park Primary School in Gerald Smith township in Uitenhage. Children balance on the piles of tiles and sit on the bricks stacked under black plastic sheeting. Weeds are growing along the walls.

The school in ward 48, which is dominated by a sea of shacks, accommodates 1 200 learners from grade R to grade 7.

In 2013, part of the school was burnt down. The Eastern Cape Department of Education appointed the Eastern Cape Department of Public Works as its implementing agent to rebuild the school. A tender of R77m was awarded to a private contractor; construction started in 2014; and the project was to be completed in October 2016.

But construction has been sporadic since 2016 and stalled completely in November 2018. Half of the grounds are now a building site while on the other half, learners are being taught in shifts in prefabricated classrooms.

According to the Department of Public Works, the tender to build 21 new classrooms and renovate 14 existing classrooms is on hold because the education department has not been paying the bills.

Vuyokazi Mbanjwa, spokesperson for Public Works, said: "The contract amount to build 35 blocks was R77 013 582.04 and the current contract value is R83 476 270.61."

"The delay for the project is due to late/non payment of contractor's certificates by the Department of Education."

The 35 blocks included a science laboratory, computer room and a library, she said.

Community Liaison Officer of the construction company, Transtruct, Terry Harke, said: "Learners are attending classes on a platoon basis: there is a morning shift and an afternoon shift. The learners who're doing grade R to grade 3 attend classes from 8am to 12pm, while grade 4 to 7 learners attend classes from 12pm to 4pm."

He added that the school was supposed to have been completed in 2016.

"But the work has been on hold for over a year. There was no construction work in the entire year of 2019."

Parent Mgcini Mejane, who is chair of the project steering committee, said: "This is a violation of a basic need for a child. The government has let down many children."

Eastern Cape education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said a team of officials from his department had visited Jubilee Primary on Thursday. He said the department had financial challenges in the past which had now "been unlocked".

"The contractor will be on site soon as we have received bridging funding of R70m from the national Department of Education in support of current school Infrastructural projects."

Temporary toilets at the school. Photo: Thamsanqa Mbovane

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