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CROWN Mines Primary School, the oldest surviving mining school established for black children in Joburg, and which is being threatened with eviction, is to be saved by the Gauteng Education Department (GED).

iProp, the mining company that owns the land, has given the school until December 15 to get out.

The 360 pupils come mainly from surrounding squatter camps and the inner city.

Flo Bird of the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust has been fighting to keep the school, which is in historic mining buildings. She said it was founded by the mother of Joyce Seroke in a Methodist Church in Fordsburg in 1935 for the children of black employees on Crown Mines. By 1949, it had grown so much that Crown Mines built six classrooms on mining land just off Church Street.

For years, said Bird, the mine looked after the buildings and later topped up the teachers’ salaries at the registered government primary school.

When Crown Mines closed, Rand Mines Property Company took ownership of the land and continued supporting the school and maintaining the buildings.

Rand Mines Property transformed into iProp, “which apparently cares nothing at all for the mining heritage and even less for education”, said Bird.

In 2009, it gave the school notice to vacate, saying the land was needed for a road.

“The Johannesburg Roads Agency denied the road was on any programme for the foreseeable future,” said Bird, adding that iProp eventually admitted it could get R16 to R18 a square metre for the land, something the GED can’t afford.

“This is naked greed and profiteering. According to title deeds, the land was worth R5 400 when transferred from Rand Mines Property to i-Prop. They have made absolutely no improvements. In fact, they have heaped piles of rubble on what has always been the school’s sports field,” she said.

The Provincial Heritage Resources Agency last month declared the school and two old churches heritage buildings. The school and churches are linked by Main Reef Road to other mining heritage sites. This, however, protects only the physical structures, it doesn’t prevent the eviction of the school itself.

“This is a fully functional school, where children and their teachers arrive on time, are in the classrooms and care deeply about their opportunity to learn and succeed. But they are poor children up against a big bully corporate and a provincial department which seems unable to act with any sense of urgency,” said Bird.

iProp, however, says the land adjacent to the school site was proclaimed a public road for the extension of the M2 many years ago.

Spokesman Richard Bennet said: “Anyone who works in the area will tell you the proposed road upgrades are long overdue. Although the road has not yet been extended and we are not sure when the local authority will fulfil their obligations in this regard, we have, over the years, kept the school advised of the future development plans for the area.

“When iProp’s predecessors started the school, the land surrounding it was largely undeveloped and an ideal location for a school. Over the years, the adjacent land areas have been developed and the school is now in the middle of industrial and commercial developments near two busy streets.

“The environment is no longer suitable for a school. We met with the GDE a few weeks ago to convey the importance of finding a suitable alternative for the learners. The GDE (investigated) the possibility of relocating learners to the 25 other schools in the area.

“We would be willing to make suitable land available to build more schools within a 5km radius of the school, should it not be possible to accommodate the children in other schools, but we have not yet received a response. We believe it is important for children to be schooled in an acceptable environment… ” he said.

GED’s Charles Phahlane said the department had been in discussion with the landowners since 2010. “The terms put forward were unacceptable. This year, it was clear that the landowners were not interested in entering into a lease agreement and had other plans for the land. We are trying to secure a lease favourable to the school, failing which, we will begin proceedings to expropriate the land and pay a market-related price,” he said.