Empty water tanks leave Makhanda schools in a crisis

It's a grey and misty Monday in Makhanda (Grahamstown) as clouds tease, bringing the promise of rain, but pupils in Makhanda's government schools are left high and dry, Grocott's Mail reports.

For some schools, this is their sixth day without water, and although schools are equipped with rainwater tanks, prolonged water shortages have led to empty tanks.

Grocott's Mail visited township schools, including Makana primary school, where 472 pupils were sent home early because there was no water.

Nomsa Zono, Makana's head of department said that the water crisis started last week Wednesday.

"It was too hot," she said. "Kids were looking for water and there was no water to drink."

By the end of the week, ablution facilities at the school were unusable due to clogged toilets and poor sanitation.

"The toilets are full as we speak. We can't use them," said Zono.

Lungiswa Mvula, member of the school management team (SMT), said that letters had been sent to parents to inform them of the conditions.

"We ask the parents that [pupils] must relieve themselves before they come to school," she said.

Sanitation is not the school's only concern. It is also worried about cooking. Without clean water, food cannot be served to the children.

"Unfortunately, because our students are coming from a poverty-stricken area, they need food at school," said Mvula. "We couldn't say that we weren't going to have school because they need that food."

Mvula told Grocott's Mail during the interview that pupils were waiting for lunch. After eating, they would be excused to go home for the day. The interview took place before midday.

Both Mvula and Zono expressed concern about the risk in sending pupils home, particularly because parents were at work and few children had someone at home to care for them. However, keeping pupils at the school with poor sanitary conditions was an equal risk.

Grocott's Mail reported on these same concerns in mid-January, when principal of NV Cewu primary school Anele Ndyolashe said that with "no one to receive them at home, [pupils] are vulnerable to abuse".

"It's beyond our scope of understanding," said Zono. "And we fully understand that when nature calls, nature calls."

Although municipal water trucks had been distributing water throughout the community since Saturday February 9, no communication was made with residents as to when and where the trucks would be stationed.

Residents took to waiting in queues for up to eight hours at the Fairview Spring, while others waited on the streets, hoping for a truck.

Zono said after phoning the municipality on Monday morning, she was told the truck would come to the school by 10:00. However, by 11:30, no truck had arrived.

By midday, Grocott's Mail reporters found a municipal truck at Nombulelo Secondary School - just a few blocks away. Makana said they had two municipal water trucks. Schools which did not have their tanks filled would have to wait until the following day.

Zono appealed to the community to sponsor tanks for flushing toilets. "We can devise other strategies for cooking," she said.

Another government school just down the road from Makana, faces the same issues, but has more than twice as many pupils. CM Vellem Primary School has more 1 000 pupils, but empty rainwater tanks. A teacher who asked to remain anonymous said they had been sending pupils home early since last week.

The school also struggled with sanitation, but could not deny their pupils the right to relieve themselves. The school's bathroom facilities were full of toilet paper and waste, but pupils continued to use them.

Should Makhanda's water crisis continue, more schools like Makana and CM Vellem will be forced to send pupils home as a result of poor sanitation, quickly turning the water shortage into an education crisis.

Community members are requested to assist in any way possible.

Read the full story on Grocott's Mail.