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Durban - A RAGING river forced the majority of pupils at a south Durban school to skip class on Tuesday, but for 20 of them sitting for the matric exams, luck was on their side.
A Good Samaritan came to their aid, driving the relieved pupils to school in his open-back, three-ton truck.
Usually, most Hlengiwe High School pupils wade through the Lovu River in rural Illovu, or face a long walk around it. But after the heavy rains the river was in full flow on Tuesday and crossing it was impossible.
By 1pm, an hour before the isiZulu Paper 2 exam was due to begin, only a few of the 44 matric pupils were at school.
They had either taken a taxi or lived near the school.
Principal Percy Khumalo and his staff had resigned themselves to a massive no-show – until a truck rumbled into the schoolyard.
“We had already concluded that there will be a number of children that will not make it and we cannot hold that to them. It is dangerous to cross the river now,” said Khumalo.
The matric pupils had been standing at the river’s edge contemplating how to get to school when the truck driver offered them a ride, Khumalo said.
The identity of the driver had not been established by Wednesday morning.
At the start of the exam, all 44 pupils were present.
Khumalo said the surrounding community was poor and most parents could not afford the two taxis required to get to the school.
When the Daily News arrived at the school before noon on Tuesday, less than 20 percent of the pupils were there. Some classrooms were empty.
“The teachers are here but the pupils are not. Normally I would not condone teachers sitting in the staffroom all day but there’s nothing we can do, we have to come to work,” Khumalo said.
Non-matric pupils who made it to school were given meals and sent home at 1pm.
Khumalo said the school had appealed to the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education for help with transportation or a safe river crossing, but nothing had come of it.
“The department is aware of the situation. I’ve been here for 23 years and we had always had the problem with pupils crossing the river,” he said. “Not having pupils attend exams is not a surprise. It happens every year.”
Last year the school obtained a 54 percent matric pass rate, with none of its pupils obtaining the minimum requirements to enroll at a tertiary institution.
Department head, Nkosinathi Sishi, said he had not been made aware of the plight of the school, but insisted exams would be written whether the river was swollen or not.
“If it means the papers are taken across the river then it will be done; there will be no interruption in examinations,” he said.
Sishi promised to send officials to the school to assess the situation. He said Robert Hlongwa High School had been earmarked as an alternative venue, if pupils were not able to cross the river.
Told that Robert Hlongwa was on the same side of the river as Hlengiwe, Sishi said the department would make alternative arrangements.
With the rest of the school set to start with their exams next Monday, Khumalo said pupils might have to write two papers a day, if the rain continued, even though it may have a negative effect on them.
“We don’t know when the rain will end. Writing two exams per day will ensure they finish quicker and they are not affected by the rain, even though it means less study time.”
According to Khumalo, if the bad weather persists, Grade 8-11 pupils could be made to start their exams on Friday, instead of next week.