PRETORIA Primary School is one of the many in the city that has been built using hazardous asbestos. Thobile Mathonsi African News Agency (ANA)

Pretoria - Thousands of learners in Gauteng were still exposed to asbestos, despite the country having banned the use of the deadly fibre since 2008.

There are 29 schools entirely constructed of asbestos in the province and a further 200 partially.

Of the 29, six are in Tshwane - Pretoria Primary, Tshwane Secondary, Fred Margadie Primary, Laerskool Broederstroom, Laerskool Hennopsrivier and Onverwacht Primary, while others are in south-western Joburg and the rest in Ekurhuleni, Vereeniging and northern Joburg, among other areas.

In the city, most of the schools with partial asbestos are in Mamelodi, Bronkhorstspruit and Hammanskraal.

Equal Education said it had doubts that Gauteng would meet the 2020 deadline set for compliance with the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.

The organisation's spokesperson, Leanne Jansen-Thomas, said most worrying in Gauteng was the lack of indication on whether the cancer-causing asbestos elements had been removed from schools' infrastructures.

“With no latest report it may be deduced that barely any work has been done to replace the schools made up entirely of asbestos in the province,” she said.

The head researcher for Equal Education, Hopolang Selebalo, said: "The 2020 deadline is looming and the province isn't even close to completely eradicating these schools

“The lax attitude by the department goes against the law and is completely inexcusable, Selebalo said.

“They give no timelines and have this flippant attitude to this issue. There is absolutely no accountability to learners, parents and teachers in the shallow document the department has provided to us or the minister.

“It's a well known fact the province is battling with overcrowding in schools, but providing new schools can't come at the cost of compromising the lives of other children. The priorities are many for the department, but that does not excuse it of its duty.

“MEC Panyaza Lesufi talks a good game; he is tweeting that school infrastructure is to be prioritised as it's in a shocking state as if he hasn't been heading the department for the past five years.“

The former co-ordinator for the Unisa School Health Improvement Programme, Olga Makhubela-Nkhondo, said simply saying asbestos was dangerous was putting it lightly.

Makhubela-Nkhondo said asbestos was like dust and very harmful once inhaled it was important to have it removed completely.

However, Lesufi’s spokesperson, Steve Mabona, said the department had committed to do away with all asbestos schools.

Mabona said it needed to be noted that the department had launched a school in Westbury, Joburg, which was asbestos-free.

“In recent weeks, we will be opening another school in Noord-gesig, which was also previously asbestos.

“We are committed to eliminating all asbestos schools and wish to reiterate that we will do away with all asbestos schools and mobile schools by 2023.”

Pretoria News