Vusumuzi Dube, Sunday News Reporter
THE Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has started reintegrating pupils who were attending an illegal school at Ngozi Mine squatter camp in Bulawayo, setting January 2018 as the deadline for having moved them into formal schooling.
Investigations by Sunday News last month exposed the illegal school at the squatter camp with the squatters saying they shun formal education not because it was only expensive but their children were also subjected to stereotyping within formal schools.
The illegal school is complete with a school building, improvised teachers, electricity connections and a makeshift library and caters for around 300 pupils who are all of primary school going ages.
In the latest development it has been revealed the ministry has started the reintegration process with a number of the children now attending schools in the neighbouring suburbs of Emakhandeni and Cowdray Park.
Bulawayo acting provincial education director, Mrs Ollicah Fikelephi Kaira confirmed the move, saying since education was a basic human right there was a need to afford the children at Ngozi Mine this opportunity.
“We have started the process of reintegrating them into formal schools. So far we are operating within our deadline as we have set ourselves a deadline of January 2018 to have reintegrated all of the kids there into formal education. As you might know education is a basic human right therefore the children at that camp deserve to be exposed to formal education which is why after seeing the article we dispatched a team to investigate as it worried us,” said Mrs Kaira.
However, squatters interviewed by Sunday News expressed concern on the move saying they felt it would be better if the ministry would just help them formalise their school as their children were more comfortable learning at other schools.
“It is not an issue of us not wanting our children to go to formal schools but at those very schools our children are labelled the Ngozi Mine children by both teachers and pupils. Therefore we feel, psychologically it will be better for them to learn here within their own environment, where they are more comfortable. We hope the ministry would just realise that already we have a structure, all we need are professional teachers who will come in and assist us. One thing we fear is that our children even after reintegration they will stop going to the schools because of the stereotype associated with them,” said Mrs Sithembile Tshuma, who also doubles up as a teacher at the illegal school.
The matter initially emerged during a Bulawayo City Council full council meeting where it was revealed that the squatters were now so daring that they have now established a fully functional society after the operation of the said school. It was revealed that in some cases the squatters owned houses but preferred to rent them out while they opted to squat.
A tour of the “school” revealed that not only did the school have makeshift chalk boards, which parents had collected from the dumpsite but there were makeshift chairs and a library area had already been constructed within the premises. The “school” also has a toilet facility which is maintained by the caretaker who is paid by the parents of the children.
A couple of years ago the local authority revealed plans to formalise six informal settlements in the outskirts of the city in a bid to fend off the squatting problem. In these plans the local authority noted that they were working on upgrading the peri-urban settlements, formalising and putting in place the requisite infrastructure required for them to house proper development.
The local authority wanted to upgrade the existing water and sewer infrastructure to meet the anticipated demand within these slumps. Some of these informal settlements that are set for upgrading include Cabatsha, Trenance, Ngozi Mine, Durnkirk, Willsgrove and Killarney.