First day of school a stroll – for most

By ARETHA LINDEN and ZIPO-ZENKOSI NCOKAZI

The first day of the 2017 academic year got off to a smooth start at most Eastern Cape schools yesterday – although for some there was drama.

Pupils and teachers arriving at storm-damaged schools in the OR Tambo district municipality were faced with the grim task of cleaning up the mess left by heavy winds and rains last week.

And at one East London school, tears flowed for all the wrong reasons – Parkside Primary School was so badly vandalised by thieves during the holidays that pupils and teachers were sent home as there was no electricity or water.

One excited young Grade R pupil looking forward to her first big day could not hold back her tears of disappointment when told there was no “big school” that day.

Qweqwe Primary School in Mthatha was one of more than 10 schools in the path of the recent storm, which also left many families destitute and at least two people dead. Seven of the school’s classrooms were without roofs and others had broken windows.

One foundation phase classroom had a caved-in wall.

Principal Simphiwe Gqoli said they were busy trying to clean up the mess alongside attempting to get pupils into classes.

When the Daily Dispatch arrived desks, books and chairs were outside as teachers and pupils attempted to clean and salvage what was left of the wreckage.

Workers were erecting a shack that would serve as a kitchen as the old one had already been converted into a classroom.

Gqoli said they would eventually be able to accommodate all the pupils in classrooms, but their biggest concern was electricity.

“You can imagine all the administrative work that is now at a standstill. We can not even print out transfer letters for our outgoing pupils and they need those going into high school,” said Gqoli.

Amid all the challenges the school faced, Gqoli was busy teaching Grade 7 maths when the Dispatch arrived. He said: “It was our intention to teach at least one crucial subject today.”

Other schools hit by the storm were Zamukulungisa Senior Secondary and Maweleni Junior Secondary in Qweqwe village, and Dalubuhle JSS and Jersey Farm JSS in Old and New Payne villages.

Some schools in Mqanduli and Mpheko were also affected.

For thousands of others, though, it was a day to celebrate and there were more smiles and hugs than tears as parents dropped their children off around the province.

Many principals spoken to were upbeat about the start of the year.

In East London, Hudson Park High principal Dave Alers said day one had gone “exceptionally well”.

“We had no problems, everything went smoothly. Teachers are organised and pupils are ready.”

He said opening day was all about sorting out admin like signing up for extra-mural activities.

Grens Laërskool principal Jan Brand said the day was “fantastic”.

However, Voorpos Primary principal Andre Matthee said a number of parents had turned up looking for space for their children.

“We had about 200 parents this morning who had not yet secured space for their children,” Matthee said, adding that books and stationery had been handed out.

Teaching had already started at Aqua Vista Primary yesterday.

Southernwood Primary was still waiting for most of its textbooks.

Principal Michelle Rothmann said they did not have textbooks for about six subjects.

“This is very challenging, but we are hopeful that the department will deliver,” said Rothmann.

Parent Karothey Smith said her daughter was “very excited” about her first day in “big school” at Crewe Primary.

“I was a bit emotional but seeing her excited made me feel better. I hope the enthusiasm she displayed today will continue for the rest of her academic life,” said Smith.

Education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima told the Dispatch yesterday afternoon that except for Parkside Primary and St Albans Primary in Port Elizabeth, which did not open due land disputes, everything for the first day of school had gone smoothly. — arethal@dispatch.co.za

l See also page 2 for more reports and pictures

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