Seven years and still waiting for a school

The incomplete Birch Acres Primary school. Picture: Jacques Naude/Independent Newspapers

The incomplete Birch Acres Primary school. Picture: Jacques Naude/Independent Newspapers

Published Jan 7, 2024


AFTER seven years of waiting, residents of Birch Acres near Kempton Park are frustrated over an abandoned multimillion-rand primary school that was meant to benefit hundreds of children in the community.

Construction on the R36 million facility was meant to have started in 2017, scheduled to be completed after six months, but years later it remains a white elephant.

On the grounds are incomplete buildings, surrounded by overgrown grass, shrubs and thickets, and trees hanging into neighbouring houses.

The outraged community has accused Vereeniging-based company Makgotamishe Holdings of corruption and misusing the millions meant for the project.

The residents also blame the Department of Education for turning a blind eye to the matter, as their cries fall on deaf ears. They allege that the company had a bad record and the department had not done due diligence.

The incomplete Birch Acres Primary school. Picture: Jacques Naude/Independent Newspapers

The Sunday Independent can reveal that Makgotamishe Holdings was awarded the contract in 2017, and subsequently appointed local subcontractors to do the smaller jobs, but abandoned the project in 2021.

The area has had no school since its extension from Birchleigh North almost two decades ago. Parents are forced to pay thousands of rand for transportation of their children to overcrowded primary schools nearby.

Responding to the complaints of the community, Department of Education spokesperson, Steve Mabona, said the school would be open for learners’s enrolment this year.

“The said school is currently being prepared for occupation in the 2024 curriculum year, which will alleviate pressure in the area accordingly,” he said.

But when a Sunday Independent team went to check on the progress in building, it was still standing incomplete.

Richard Seletisha, a community liaison officer in the area elected by the residents to voice their views, said the partially complete school was becoming a den for criminals, while their children were forced to travel long distances to get an education.

“The company had promised to hand over the school on 31 August 2018, after being built for six months because they were using advanced technology,” Seletisha said.

He was referring to the contractor employing the aluminium method of building, which was supposed to take less time and money.

Seletisha said R26 million had gone down the drain as the school remained incomplete.

“As for the other R10 million that is not accounted for because the initial budget for the school was R36 million. We have no full record of the other R10 million,” he said.

The incomplete Birch Acres Primary school. Picture: Jacques Naude/Independent Newspapers

Seletisha blamed the department, saying: “The department is at fault because they did not hold the contractor accountable for all the errors. The company was approved without due diligence and they were questionable because they had a bad record from the start.”

Seletisha said they had marched to the department in September last year but nothing had happened.

A subcontractor, Isaac Mthethwa of Khanyiso security, employed to oversee the security, has been guarding the school despite the main contractor owing him more than R700 000.

“We have been looking after this school since it started being built from the ground in 2016. When we started with the main contractor I was hired to be the security for this school. I worked for them to provide security until now, in 2024, without getting paid…they did not even pay the workers … there were always stories,” Mthethwa said.

Asked why he continued watching over the school, Mthethwa said his concern was that it would become a drug den, in a community that has managed to keep its children safe from the scourge.

“If I don't continue to guard it it will be vandalised, and once it gets vandalised it's going to be a crime spot which would attract crime into our community…as the community here we need this school.

“We can't afford to lose this school. If I stop guarding the department it will take longer years to start from the beginning because they would have to make up another budget for the school,” Mthethwa said.

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