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Hungry learners embarked on strike action

The Eastern Cape’s Department of Basic Education has failed on several levels, with the latest being its failure to provide food to hungry learners – sparking a school strike in the province.

Learners at Ben Mali Senior Secondary School situated in Lusikisiki – in the the OR Tambo Coastal District – have stopped going to school this week, demanding that the department listen to them and ensure the smooth running of the National School Nutrition Programme. They say they have not been provided with meals since the beginning of April. Learners stopped attending classes from Wednesday last week because of their hunger and a number of other problems the school is faced with.

According to a Grade 12 leaner who asked not to be named, learners had decided to embark on strike action because they have not been receiving food from the school’s feeding scheme, there is no electricity at the school, learners have been forced to buy text books they cannot afford and drug abuse and drug dealing have become problems at the school.

“We had decided to go on strike as we attend classes on empty stomachs since the beginning of April and that affects our competence at school. Most of leaners depend on meals provided,” he said.

“Because there is no electricity at school we cannot attend evening classes, especially now in winter season, and I am certain that will negatively impact our performance on our studies.”

He said grade 11 accounting learners are forced to buy textbooks, yet their parents cannot afford this expense.

“There’s a high rate of drug abuse amongst leaners, with people smoking dagga. There are also drug dealers amongst us. Learners will not go back to class until these matters are addressed, and so we call upon the Department of Basic Education to intervene,” the anxious learner explained.

Chairperson of the school governing body, Lulamile Nkomo, confirmed the challenges that had resulted in learners engaging in strike action

“The strike was triggered by a random search conducted by police who were called in after two leaners were found smoking dagga in school’s rest rooms. They confessed and said that they bought it from one of the learners,” Nkomo said.

The Department of Basic Education has delayed allocated funds meant for schools in the area, meaning that they haven’t received the money they need for school feeding schemes.

“We had to halt providing meals to learners until funds are available. It’s a great challenge. Providing meals isn’t the only problem. During extra mural activities such as music our school is compelled to negotiate with taxi organisations to transport our learners. We are operating in debt,” said Nkomo.

She said the school had met with the parents to explain reasons why meals aren’t provided to ask them to instruct their children to return to classes.

Captain Mduduzi Godlwana of the local police confirmed that drugs were found at the school.

“Following a search conducted by police at Ben Mali SSS, dagga was found and those that were found in possession of dagga were minors, and have been released on warning,” he said.

The Eastern Cape’s spokesperson for the Department of Basic Education, Malibongwe Mtima, said a delegation had been sent to Ben Mali.

“We have received a report that the nutrition programme had halted at Ben Mali SSS and a delegation led by the District Director Mr. Joseph has been sent to find temporary solutions while we are engaging with the finance department to make deposits and find out the motives that resulted in interruptions to the programme,” he said.

“We have also received the reports about the learners who were found in possession of dagga and police were called to attend to the matter. We have communicated with Eskom and asked them to connect electricity to seven schools within the district that are having problems and the department will also intervene to address the issue of textbooks,” Mtima said. – Health-e News.

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