Johannesburg - The DA in Gauteng has patted itself on the back for having "pressured" MEC Panyaza Lesufi into finally getting rid of Noordgesig Primary School's asbestos' structure and building a new safer one.
According to the party's shadow MEC for Education Khume Ramulifho, the community had been waiting for nearly 10 years for the old asbestos school to be demolished and rebuilt with a brick and a mortar structure.
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi and Gauteng Premier David Makhura reopened the school on Wednesday, as part of the department’s programme to eradicate mud schools or those built with inappropriate substances.
The old school, built with asbestos, was demolished to make way for the more environmentally-friendly structure.
“This is among 29 schools that the department has committed to eradicate by the 2023/23 financial year,” Lesufi said.
Exposure to asbestos can lead to asbestosis and a rare and aggressive cancer called mesothelioma.
Asbestos can also progressively cause lung disease.
Lesufi added that the other schools in the sector which had been built with asbestos were under construction.
“As we stand here today, we are making a strong statement that we are turning things around.
“We are turning things around, not only for the purpose of infrastructure, but also with the concern of what is happening in classrooms.
“Those that thought we don’t deserve bricks and mortar, but asbestos rather, must know we’ve changed things for the better.”
Ramolifho said the school was supposed to be demolished and reconstructed in 2009, however the process was marred due to unnecessary delays by the province's Department of Education.
He said former Gauteng Education MEC, Barbara Creecy made many empty promises with budget commitments which failed to materialise. He said they conducted numerous oversight inspections to the school and met with angry parents who embarked on several protests outside the school demanding that the school be demolished and rebuilt.
"The DA made a commitment to the parents and the community of Noordgesig that we would not rest until this school was properly rebuilt. The community was reassured that we would use all the mechanisms available in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature to put pressure on the MEC to act.
"The DA continued to put pressure to MEC Panyaza Lesufi since his appointment in 2014, the department has on several occasions made promises to replace this asbestos structure but nothing happened and only after enormous pressure from the DA did the process begin.
"This school is one example of how the official opposition has managed to put pressure on the ANC-led government to build a proper school and deliver services to our people.
We will continue to put pressure on MEC Lesufi to ensure that all asbestos schools and classrooms are demolished and rebuilt with brick and mortar structures," Ramulifho said.
Delighted parents welcomed the opening of the school and Lesufi said this meant that taxis, buses and minibuses that were transporting community children elsewhere to search of better schools were making a huge U-turn back to township schools in the community.
“We are turning things around to ensure that our education system can prepare our children to compete with other children in any part of the world.”
A delighted parent and community member expressed her gratitude to the department for the school.
“I’m happy that Noordgesig has been rebuilt after everything we’ve been through because we’ve been fighting, boycotting to get the school to where it is today.
“We (community members) are happy today that it finally opened.
“We fought for this school, so that our children can have a school for generations to follow,” said Chantel Willams.
Gauteng MEC of Infrastructure and Development Tasneem Motara said: “It’s one of our example projects.
“We delivered it in record time and almost stayed within the budget.
“The amount of R110 million was invested into this project and community by the provincial government.
Noordgesig Primary’s deputy principal, Colleen Gill, said: “This day and year are very special for me.
“This year I am celebrating 30 years of service at Noordgesig. I want to thank our premier for being an honourable man and keeping his word about rebuilding the school.
“I want to make a commitment on behalf of the community, school and staff that we will look after these premises.
“I pray that God continues to bless us and continues to allow us to give our children the best education, so that they can become leaders of tomorrow.”