The newspaper was investigating claims by the National Association of School Governing Bodies that government has neglected old public schools in favour of newly built ones.
A closer inspection of where the dagga and cigarette smoke originated from led the news team to dilapidated unused toilets on all floors of the three-storey school where different groups of boys aged as young as 14 had gathered to smoke.
One of the groups had formed a circle around one boy who was busy crushing some more dagga on top of a school A4 exercise book ignoring the sound of members of the association’s voices who were pointing them out.
It was when they noticed strangers among them that the boy who was crushing dagga immediately fled while others hid their cigarettes and some quickly passed them on to nearby pupils.
The walls of the unlocked toilets were marked “this is our smoking zone” and the association indicated that the unused facilities were openly used as smoking areas by pupils who abandoned classes to hide in them.
A large enough open drain to swallow any of the pupils playing around it was also found at the school where the young smokers are said to risk their lives standing on the pipes at the edge of it.
Despite the toilets not being in used or having running water, the smell of urine and human faeces in them made it evident that they were being utilised.
“How can these kids respect their schools when the infrastructure is so neglected? The school was also without chairs and desks for a long time. They were only delivered a week ago. Even the doors were either broken or missing until the acting principal arrived. But the situation in this school shows that its management is not working,” said the association secretary general Matakanye Matakanye.
“Buhlebuzile Secondary School recently had 42 computers stolen after thugs drilled a hole on the wall. It had to fix the damage from its own pocket. Also of concern is that the keys to the class where the computers were kept had also gone missing and only reappeared after the theft. It was left by someone on a table to be found, which indicates an inside job,” he said.
The same school was placed under the watch of an acting principal after its head was suspended on charges allegedly related to sexual relationships with pupils.
When The Citizen arrived at the school, its team was able to walk through it unhindered while pupils also walked its passages during schooling hours. A large number of other pupils of the school stood outside its premises after being locked out for late-coming.
“Late coming is a serious problem at this school and we do not have back-up to deal with the issues here. But what do you expect? When a school’s infrastructure is not up to date, the children see this and take advantage and here it seems some of the teachers do not care about the environment the children are being taught in – as long as they get paid their salaries in full,” Matakanye said.
School toilets at Buhlebuzile have also been turned into rubbish dumps, some overhead lights have been pulled out and this was said to be due to some powder in the lights that the pupils take out and smoke.
The newspaper was also shown parts of the school’s fence where used injections were often picked up – something Matakanye said showed that pupils injected themselves with drugs before attending classes.
However, a visit to the Tiisetsong and Thoko-Thaba secondary schools did not go unnoticed by their school principals and teachers. Both principals refused the news team access to the schools citing strict instructions given by the Gauteng Department of Education to not allow journalist on the premises.
But the Citizen discovered that its visit followed a recent incident at Tiisetsong Secondary School whereby an asthmatic pupil was robbed of his schoolbag on the school yard. The boy had struggled to breathe after the incident. He received help on time, but his parents are demanding answers from the school as it tries to keep away from media attention.
After being informed that the newspaper was doing a story about the school’s infrastructure following claims that it has had broken doors and windows for some time, its agitated principal denied this before referring the news team to the provincial education department’s head office in central Johannesburg.
Thoko-Thaba Secondary School was found with falling ceilings and in need of paintwork. However, once the school principal was alerted to The Citizen’s presence, he too quickly referred the newspaper to the provincial department.
Matakanye said: “Parents want to see the department take a decision to help their children’s schools because they have already approached the district office and they have not been receiving a response.”
“All the schools in the Thokoza area need renovations, especially the high schools, before they hurt children,” he said.
Gauteng Department of Education’s response to whether Gauteng public schools have insurance or an infrastructure upkeep budget:
“There is an infrastructure budget within the department which is responsible for repairs. It said a bigger part of this goes to fixing the normal wear and tear of buildings, falling ceilings, unblocking and upgrading toilets, replacing glasses due to storms. However, the department also added that damaged schools – as a result of break-ins or weather – have not had a big impact on its maintenance budget.”