Ultimatum given on school’s toilets
THE South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has issued an ultimatum to the Department of Education to pay nearly R2-million owed to a contractor responsible for building ablution facilities at a Port Elizabeth school.
A year after a representative of the commission visited Zanoxolo Public Primary School in Motherwell and saw the appalling conditions of the bathrooms, nearly 1 000 pupils still use the temporary toilets provided while construction is ongoing.
The toilets – with broken basins, no toilet paper and a strong stench – were also a violation of the pupils’ rights, commissioner Andre Gaum found on his follow-up visit to the school yesterday.
“We are not going to allow the project to stand still for another two or three months,” Gaum told a meeting with representatives from the school, the department, the Coega Development Corporation (CDC), which is managing the project on behalf of the department, and Omega Building, the contractor.
“It is a horrible situation and an onslaught on human dignity.”
When the commission visited the school in September last year and discovered bathrooms that posed a health hazard to pupils, Education MEC Mandla Makupula promised to fund new bathrooms for the no-fee school.
However, by yesterday only about 25% of the project had been completed, largely due to the department not paying the contractor, CDC project manager Vuyolwethu Tongo said.
“We had a huge delay around SMME participation and substandard underground materials in the old ablution blocks, but the main problem from day one has been the payment of contractors,” Tongo said.
“The contractor has been on site the last seven months and has only been paid twice.
“The contractor can still finish within six weeks [of payment], but we could have finished it [long ago] if not for these problems.”
Snenhlahla Dlamini, chief works inspector from the department’s district office, apologised for the delay in payments but could not offer an explanation.
Gaum instructed Dlamini to contact the head office and ensure that it paid the money owed to Omega by close of business today.
“If the department does not respond, the consequences will be huge,” he said.
“If their undertakings are not honoured, we will have to subpoena the MEC.”
Governing body chairman Thembekile Jonga welcomed the commission’s stance.
Department spokesman Mali Mtima said they were having a series of meetings with stakeholders involved with construction at various schools in the metro to iron out issues with payment.
STOPGAP SOLUTION: A pupil walks past the temporary toilets at Zanoxolo Public Primary School yesterday
TOUGH TALK: SAHRC commissioner Andre Gaum and Education Department provincial manager Abongile Sipondo