The Gauteng department of education has done nothing to address crumbling infrastructure at Ennerdale Secondary School, putting more than 1 200 pupils' lives at risk, say parents at the school.
The parents have lambasted the department and its MEC, Panyaza Lesufi, saying their dithering could see a catastrophe similar to – or even worse than – the Driehoek Hoërskool tragedy in which four children died and 20 others were injured.
News24 visited the Ennerdale school on Thursday morning and saw several large cracks on two walkways connecting two blocks.
Scaffolding poles – which parents say were put up in 2016 - support the walkways.
Concerned parents claim that when pupils walk on the structure they feel it vibrate.
The owner of the scaffolding is demanding the poles back, the parents say.
There are signs of infrastructure damage to other parts of the school building. Roof tiles have shifted in some areas, while in one classroom plaster around a window has peeled back, revealing cement and padding.
Only Grade 12 pupils are currently being taught on the property, for safety reasons, says the school governing body (SGB), but News24 spotted other pupils also walking around the school yard. Many more could be seen walking in the streets nearby.
PUPILS 'HAVE NOTHING TO DO'
The SGB says the school has been closed since Monday due to the safety concerns.
"They arrive early at school only to be exposed to dangers when roaming the street doing nothing. Some learners have resorted to alcohol and smoking as they have nothing to do," said an employee at the school.
Workers at the school have placed nets and barricade tape across the entry points to the walkways to prevent people from walking on them.
Ground staff say they too fear walking near, under or through the concrete corridors.
Parents showed News24 a letter dated May 19, 2016, in which the precarious state of the walkway is highlighted.
The photocopied document has the Gauteng provincial government's logo, suggesting the original was an official letterhead.
The brief report is written by two assessors who inspected the walkways.
Their "visual assessment" found that "the columns that are supporting the walkways are falling apart".
STRUCTURAL EXAMINATION RECOMMENDED
The document further states: "As per the visual assessment, the broken slab indicates that the slab and columns are not properly reinforced, and the school has put temporary hired steel scaffolding to support the falling concrete."
The assessors advise that the structure needs to be examined by a "structural engineer".
They conclude by stating that the "matter should be treated urgently to avoid accidents".
According to the SGB, the school has 1 274 pupils and this year it has accommodated 60 extra pupils with special needs.
The department is planning to turn the school into a full service school to include a technical, academic and technical occupational curriculum.
Irate parents converged on the school on Thursday morning demanding answers.
Evelyn Seshobela, the mother of a Grade 11 pupil, told News24 she took the day off from work to join other parents to march to Lesufi's office on Thursday.
"I am angry. For five years we have been thinking that the department will fix the problem and it doesn't want to. The school is not safe at all. They will only act when our children are dead. We have agreed that a block of classrooms remain locked and should not be accessed as it is not safe.
"Our children have lost their academic time. Government says we must force our children to attend school but not under these conditions. I am worried about the safety of learners [who have been roaming] the streets daily for the past two weeks. Anything can happen to them and no one will be held accountable," said Seshobela.
Two Grade 8 pupils who travel daily from Evaton and Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg, said coming to school was a waste of time.
"Our parents are aware of the situation at the school, and they hope that there will be changes," said one of the boys.
Another frustrated Grade 8 pupil said she felt like dropping out of school if the infrastructure wasn't fixed soon.
"I am quitting. My year has been wasted. I am losing hope and don't feel that someone cares about us. We came here to learn but we spend days on the street or sleeping in the school yard," she said.
The chairperson of the SGB, Delphine Botha, said her predecessors had been complaining about the school's infrastructure since 1997, when cracks were first noticed.
"Their complaints fell on deaf ears. Even now our complaints are being ignored. This time we can't take it anymore, we want Lesufi to act and to act quickly. We don't want to see him here to comfort the would-be bereaved families accompanied by many microphones and cameras from the media.
"He must come before lives are lost. We don't want another Driehoek Hoërskool situation. The tragic incident has opened our eyes wide and we still sympathise with parents of learners who lost their lives and those who were injured," said Botha.
She added: "We are tired of hearing loud vibrations when people walk on the corridor. Not only learners are afraid to access some classrooms, teachers are also scared for their lives."
DEPARTMENT AGAINST SHUTDOWN
Botha said education officials in their district had told the SGB that their hands were tied on numerous occasions, directing the SGB to Lesufi to raise its concerns.
School principal Jacobus Souls said parents, pupils and the SGB handed a memorandum of demands to Lesufi's office on Thursday. However, the MEC and head of department were in the legislature and could not accept their demands, said Souls.
Instead, their letter was accepted by an official from Lesufi's office.
"We handed them copies of correspondence that we had with the department for over five years. We also handed them copies of our complaints and we categorically made it clear that we are not going to allow learners to access the building until it is safe.
"We need temporary structures in the school or an alternative place where we can teach as soon as possible. We asked them to arrange community halls or consult with local churches where we can teach our learners. We told the department that we are not going to allow anyone to access the building. It is dangerous and I don't want to see any fatality in the school," said Souls.
He added the department had promised to respond within seven days and would send inspectors to assess the building on Friday.
"All we want is a place where we can teach our children. Our teachers are currently working on a catch-up programme. So far, only Grade 12 learners have been accommodated in a small section in the school," he said.
Gauteng education department spokesperson Steve Mabona said an inspector had been sent to the school on Friday to verify the situation and added that the department was against the shutting down of the school.
"According to the information at our disposal, there were some requests that were made by the school that we have received. However, the process of intervention was prolonged. We were told that the learning has been shut down and we don't condone that. The department is currently looking at schools that came forward in our meeting last week with their infrastructure problems," said Mabona.