A group of learners from Mdeni Senior Secondary School in Alice sat down to study on the highway today, bringing traffic on the R53 to a standstill.
The learners were demanding access to new classrooms built at their school. After the protest the keys to the new classrooms were handed over to the school.
Joined by parents, learners blocked the road between Alice and King William's Town after a wall at their school collapsed after rains yesterday.
They told GroundUp they had been waiting since last year for the Eastern Cape Department of Education to provide classrooms. Grade 12 learner Sikelelwa Zidayi said temporary classrooms had been provided but the learners could not used them because the construction company refused to hand over the keys.
Apparently this is Mdeni High School in the EC. They took their protest to the national road since bedikiwe kufunda phandle eskolweni.. Damn pic.twitter.com/URMAA6nFCw— Babalwa (@Beemagqwanti) February 15, 2017
"The company said the department has not paid and we cannot use the classrooms," she said.
Zidayi said members of the School Governing Body (SGB) had been to the education department's offices in King William's Town late last year and the department had promised to solve the matter.
"Early this year we were there, asking the department to open the temporary classrooms; they promised to open them on January 31 but that never happened. They kept on giving us empty promises," said Zidayi.
The school was built by parents from three villages, Ncerha, Ngqele, Balaksini, in the 1970s.
Zidayi said the walls were collapsing, the floors were broken and the roof was leaking.
"Our parents and sisters were students in this school; now it's us. The department never maintained it. The school has been like this for years," she said.
The protest was joined by parents and learners from other schools around Alice. SGB member Mandisa Magaqaza said parents and learners had decided to take action because the department seemed not to care about their grievances.
Even after walls collapsed they still dragged their feet," said Magaqaza. She told GroundUp that after students closed the R53, the department had sent officials to hand over the keys.
Alice police spokesperson Siya Nontshingasaid the protest was peaceful and no arrests had been made.
ECDoE spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima confirmed that the classrooms had not been used because the contractor had not been paid. "Officials went to the school to sort out the issue and learning has resumed," he said.