Community members worked together to douse a fire that was allegedly started by looters at the Radha Roopsingh Primary School in eTete, near Kwadukuza. The school was looted, damaged and torched. Picture: Supplied
Community members worked together to douse a fire that was allegedly started by looters at the Radha Roopsingh Primary School in eTete, near Kwadukuza. The school was looted, damaged and torched. Picture: Supplied

They swore at me when I tried to stop them from stealing, says principal

By Nadia Khan Time of article published Jul 30, 2021

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Mano Naidoo, the acting principal, said the looting started on July 13 and parts of the school were torched the following day.

Durban: Most schools in KwaZulu-Natal reopened on Monday, but teaching and learning in 139 schools and education centres in the province have been compromised following the recent unrest. Some of the buildings were damaged or torched, or both, and equipment stolen. According to the Department of Education, the costs would run into millions.

Elijah Mhlanga, a national spokesperson for the Department of Education, said reports have been and are being received from all affected education districts in KZN.

He said all provincial districts have reported incidents, with uMlazi, Pinetown and Ugu districts reporting the highest number of schools affected. Mhlanga said the total number of school infrastructure affected amounted to 139.

“However, the numbers increase as the districts continue to report.”

He said the Department of Education would assist the affected schools.

Kwazi Mshengu, the education MEC, reportedly said the damages cost millions of rand and that they would assist in finding mobile classrooms to accommodate some of the pupils displaced in schools. But the mobile classrooms, he had said, were expensive.

Among the schools affected was the Radha Roopsingh Primary School in eTete, near Kwadukuza. The school, which was started by the local community about 70 years ago, has 958 pupils and caters for grades R to 7.

Mano Naidoo, the acting principal, said the looting started on July 13 and parts of the school were torched the following day.

“I received a call that these guys broke into the school. When I arrived, I saw them walking out of the school with the pupils’ chairs. When I tried to stop them from stealing and tell them the chairs were for the children and what they were doing was wrong, they swore at me. I even told them I am an elderly person, how can they swear at me, but they became aggressive. When I got into the school, I saw that they had already taken the computers and printers from our admin offices. I tried to secure the gates for the school and left.”

Naidoo said the following afternoon, he received a call from the school’s neighbouring residents that the school was on fire.

The classroom that was torched at Roopsingh School. Picture: Supplied

“It was about 3pm when I received the call. When I got there my heart broke to see the school in flames. But the residents were already working together trying to put the fire out. People were actually crying. It was only about an hour later that the fire department arrived and put the fire out.”

Naidoo said the administration building and a Grade 6 classroom were burnt.

“Everything was gone. Nothing could be salvaged. My office was burnt to the ground, except for my safe, which had my laptop. They had also tried to burn one of the Grade 2 classrooms and vandalised most of the classrooms.”

Naidoo said the school, which was a quintile 3 school, did not collect school fees and depended on the Department of Education for assistance.

“About 90% of our pupils come from Velani township and the rest of the pupils are from the surrounding area. What is heartbreaking is that the children depend on the school’s feeding scheme for a hot meal every day, which is often their only meal. But sadly, the looters even stole the food stock we used to prepare these meals.”

He said the education department was now helping them to restore the school.

“I met with the officials from the education department and public works last week. They said the school was in a dire state and that it would take time to be restored. However, until then, the education department will be providing us with eight mobile classrooms, one of which will be used for an admin office. They will also provide us with all the utensils and food stock needed to prepare the meals for when the children return. Right now, we are still trying to sort out the school, which was badly damaged. The children will probably only be able to return in a week or two. We would also appreciate any help to rebuild.”

Naidoo said the school opened a case of arson at the Umhlali SAPS.

Teacher unions have condemned the looting, vandalising and torching of schools.

Thirona Moodley, the provincial chief executive of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) in KZN, said: “We have watched mass looting and destruction of shopping malls and warehouses. However, what has become particularly hurtful, painful, disappointing and sad is the destruction of our schools. What motivates such senseless acts? To destroy our children’s future is unforgivable.

“The looting and destruction of schools is heartless and criminal. It deprives our children of a future and their constitutional right to quality education ... Schools will not be built and repaired overnight. Are we going to sit under trees? Our children don’t deserve this. Naptosa urges communities to protect their schools. You owe it to our children.”

Riefdah Ajam, the general secretary of the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa), said they called on the communities in the province to stop destroying children’s futures by vandalising and looting schools. Ajam said schools with feeding schemes appeared to be the targets and were particularly vulnerable.

She said the education of children was a constitutionally guaranteed right that should be upheld by all adults.

“Our Constitution encourages us to prioritise the best interest of the child in any given situation, and education in a secure and caring environment is the best gift that we can give to our children. It is therefore quite disturbing to see adults, who are entrusted with defending and promoting this constitutionally enshrined right, being the ones who are callously violating it.”

Ajam said the union called on security agencies to act swiftly to secure schools which were soft targets.

“Our federation refuses to allow our future generation to be sabotaged by lawlessness when they are already having to play catch-up in their studies because of the pandemic and struggling to compete globally in the face of educational resources deficiencies.

“Our teachers should also not be overburdened with healing emotional and psychological scars when this chaos ends. Education breeds confidence, confidence breeds hope and hope breeds peace. We need to protect our education system. Our nation deserves nothing less.”

Advocate Ben van der Walt, the general secretary of South African Parastatal and Tertiary Institutions Union (Saptu), an affiliate of Fedusa, said: “The acts of hooliganism the country has seen is unacceptable. But to destroy schools, especially those with feeding schemes, is at the next level of criminality. There is no excuse to take away the future of our children. Our thoughts are with our colleagues whose job to prepare children for their futures just became even more challenging.”

Van der Walt said the union called on the government to urgently secure schools and bring an end to the unrest in the country.

The damage to the offices. Picture: Supplied

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