Schools looted South Africa
(Photo by Gallo Images/Rapport/Deon Raath)
  • The damage caused to at least 14 schools in Gauteng during the recent unrest is expected to exceed R38 million.
  • But the cost to education in KwaZulu-Natal is far worse.
  • At least 144 schools, eight education circuit management offices, and three education centres in the province have been affected.
  • Repairing the damaged classrooms and replacing the stolen goods will cost more than R100 million.
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Schools across Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) were looted and damaged during the recent bout of civil unrest, piling more pressure onto the education sector which has already been hurt by Covid-19 and associated lockdowns.

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on education in South Africa. Disruptions to the schooling terms has cut learning time in half, according to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef).

It's further estimated that at least 500,000 pupils didn't return to school in 2021, leading to the highest dropout rate in 20 years.

And while the loss of schooling time and record-breaking dropout rates threaten South Africa's already embattled education sector, another consequence of lockdown has reduced the number of operational classrooms able to accept pupils as schools reopen.

Vandalism, arson, and looting has affected more than 400 schools in Gauteng alone since South Africa first entered lockdown in March 2020. It's estimated that some 2,000 schools across the country have been targeted by criminals over the past year.

The civil unrest in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal – typified by wanton looting and violent clashes with police and vigilantes which left more than 300 people dead – inflicted further damage on schools already ravaged by criminals during lockdown.

At least 14 schools were targeted in Gauteng, resulting in damages of approximately R38 million. The impact on learning in KwaZulu-Natal is much worse, with 144 schools, eight education circuit management offices, and three education centres falling victim to vandalism and looting. The cost of damages in KwaZulu-Natal is estimated to exceed R100 million.

The dire state of schools in both provinces was laid bare before parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education on Tuesday. The presentations detailed damages to schools since the start of 2021, with an emphasis on the looting which swept over both provinces in mid-July.

Most of the damage sustained by schools in Gauteng relates to the theft of electrical wiring which is sold for scrap.

"In some instances where we've been piloting plastic taps, even the plastic taps have been stolen," said Albert Chanee, the department's deputy director-general, in detailing the extent of the theft.

Copper pipes, aluminium frames, and steel fencing have also been stolen from schools. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) equipment, like computers and printers, are also targeted.  

The Schaumburg Combined School in Krugersdorp was one of the hardest hit in the province. The administrative block was badly damaged, and looters made off with 42 tablets, three desktop computers, five laptops, two projectors, three computer screens, a specialised scanner, a sound system, and nine wireless routers. The cost to repair the damages and replace the stolen goods exceeds R4 million.

Lawley Primary School No.2 in Ennerdale lost 15 garden spades and door handles to looters, with damages to the building totalling R1.2 million.

The KwaMashu Teacher Development Centre in KwaZulu-Natal was completely ransacked by looters.

"The most affected education centre is the one in KwaMashu, where they ripped everything off. They even took cups and saucers," said KwaZulu-Natal education department's acting HOD Dr Barney Mthembu.

All doors, burglar bars, and windows at the KwaMashu Teacher Development Centre were broken. Looters made off 15 desktop computers, 32 laptops, kettles, microwaves, cameras, projectors, air conditioning units, TVs, chairs, and tables. They even stole a hosepipe and 48 stacks of toilet paper rolls.

"This unrest and looting and damage was more concentrated [in urban settings]," said Mthembu, noting that the majority of institutions impacted in the province were in the municipalities of Umlazi, Pinetown, and uMgungundlovu. Attacks on schools in these areas account for 35% of all incidents recorded throughout the province.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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