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Disabled KZN pupils beaten at school

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Published Sep 4, 2015


Durban - Disabled pupils at a Zululand special needs school are being beaten by their house mothers and are living under appalling conditions at the state-of-the-art facility.

This is according to teacher, Musa Mathenjwa, and other staff and pupils at Sisizakele Special School, near Richards Bay, who spoke anonymously.

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The school has been running for more than 10 years.

Two years ago, the department revamped it. But furniture, including beds, is still lacking since the upgrade.

Mathenjwa said he brought his concerns about conditions at the school to the attention of the principal and the Education Department at the Mkhuze district office in June, but nothing had been done. He then e-mailed KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni’s office.

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After that e-mail he was called to a meeting with district officials and the school’s management team, which included senior teachers.

Mathenjwa said he felt threatened because he was given “a severe tongue-lashing” at the meeting.

However, another employee said the school, which caters for 209 mentally and physically challenged pupils between the ages of 6 and 22, was “literally run to the ground”.

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“The water system malfunctioned as has the water heating system and laundry machines. Nothing is repaired. No one tends to the yard, and the dormitories, where the children sleep, are very unhygienic.

“There is no commitment on the part of the school management,” the employee said.

Another teacher said the curriculum was “meaningless” and of little value to the children.

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The employee said: “They are not given skills except working with beads. All these were reported to the district office, but nothing has come out of it. Corporal punishment is meted to those children. It’s sad.”

Pupils - regardless of whether they are physically or mentally disabled - are only taught English, Zulu and Mathematics in grades 5 to 7. Although all are receiving skills training in bead-making and sewing.

A 22-year-old pupil with cerebral palsy said her dream of becoming a teacher was being frustrated.

“Everything is bad at this school. The curriculum in this school is holding me back. My parents are looking for a school for me in the mainstream,” the pupil said.

Other employees called for the department to intervene to solve the problems at the school.

School principal, Sophia Jood, said she was aware of the concerns, including the beating of pupils, but these had not been brought to her formally.

“What makes it difficult to resolve is the manner in which the teacher, who first raised the issues, went about doing things.

“We don’t have furniture and beds, but we expect to have them delivered soon. We will attend to all the concerns once I have them formally,” Jood said.

The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) was outraged that the department had taken no action.

Provincial secretary, Nomarashiya Caluza, said an official should have been sent immediately to investigate.

Caluza said she was concerned that the identity of the whistle-blower, Mathenjwa, had been divulged to other staff, which could spark conflict.

She said physically and mentally challenged pupils should be attended to separately, according to their needs.

“When a person and or employee raises concerns about the appalling working conditions in their workplaces, including schools, such people need to be protected from possible attack by management or their colleagues.

“Sometimes workers report to the highest offices because of the failure of the management at lower levels. The expectation thereof is that when you receive a complaint, it is not necessary to disclose the name of the person who gave information. In fact, what is needed is the timeous response to the issues raised,” Caluza said.

“In the department, we have members who report wrongdoing, but they end up being victimised and blamed by the colleagues for reporting to higher offices.

“The issue now is how do we protect the teacher from victimisation and attack by the employer who fails to deal with the conditions at their school? This is bad... such that the teacher can end up applying for a transfer, or for constructive dismissal which the employer will have to pay dearly for. It’s the learners who suffer as they lose dedicated teachers.”

Education portfolio committee chairwoman, Linda Hlongwa-Madlala, said they would speak to the whistle-blower to get to the bottom of the matter. “It’s wrong and against the law for the department to expose an individual who raises concerns about wrongdoing. It exposes him to victimisation instead of focusing on investigating the concerns. They have put that educator in harm’s way now,” she said.

Mathenjwa said that at a meeting, where he was called in after e-mailing the MEC’s office, he felt his life and job were at stake. “The officials’ disregard of special children and their needs left me dejected. Statements like, ‘We do not expect teachers and engineers to come out of this school’, by one of the officials hurt me the most.

“They were so absorbed with who I was, rather than what had brought us together in that meeting. Statements like, ‘In what capacity did you write this e-mail to the head office?’ were very disturbing. I would like a meeting to be held again in the presence of head-office officials, at least, then there would be some sanity in this,” he said.

Muzi Mahlambi, department spokesman, said the department was looking into the matter.

The Daily News has seen a copy of the e-mail said to have been sent to the MEC’s office by Mathenjwa.

Daily News

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