Suikerbekkie Pre-school may have to vacate the premises at 100 Oost Street, from which it has been in operation since 1979, if the Department of Public Works on whose property the school is situated, gets its way.
The school is a non-profit organisation that elected to become a Model C school in 1993/4 and has been a public school since 2004. It is presently home to 110 learners.
Annelene Wagner, principal of the school, said the Department of Public Works notified her two years ago that the school must be vacated within 30 days. She protested and, with the assistance of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), the notice was opposed.
“We did not hear anything further,” Wagner said and added that they even offered to buy the premises where, since 2005, nearly half a million Rand has been spent on the upkeep and maintenance of the school including getting an electrical wiring certificate, installing ceramic tiles, a new kitchen, building a wooden classroom and repairing the roof and a wall that fell over after a storm.
The school has the sought-after gold status of the Department of Social Development, which means all the facilities, buildings, qualifications of its personnel, everything is in order and it is also registered at the Polokwane Municipality. Recently the school was selected by the North West University as a mentor school to help train students from across the country studying to become teachers.
“A year ago we had 180 enrolled learners, before all this nonsense started,” Wagner said. Recently the school was again notified to vacate the premises within 30 days and they were given 30 days to respond. A firm of attorneys is helping to oppose the notice and Wagner is appealing to persons with interest in the school and who wish to support them in their predicament to contact her or visit the school.
“We have paid rates and taxes since 1979, although we were not the registered owner of the premises. In 2000 we found out that we were actually paying for the Suikerbekkie premises as well as five adjacent stands belonging to the department of Public Works: the archives, provincial library, traffic department as well as two houses. This was rectified after the municipality did some quantity surveying and since 2009 Suikerbekkie has only been paying for itself.
“At least 15 people will be without a job if we have to close down,” Wagner says. “We also have some previously disadvantaged learners who attend the school free of charge.”
She said according to the Schools Act a school may not be used for other purposes.
“The Department of Public Works wants to use the school for offices for the Department of Education, but there are lots of other empty office space available that they could use.”
Department of Public Works Spokesperson, Paena Galane told Polokwane Observer it was unfortunate that the matter is currently before the court and the department would not like to comment much about the matter until the courts have pronounced on it.
He said there had been several discussions between the Department of Education and the management of Suikerbekkie Pre-School, including the School Governing Body, dating back to 2004. He said such discussions did not bear any fruit until the two state departments resorted to lodge an application for eviction. He said government is only responsible for accommodating public schools, operating within the ambit of the South African Schools Act as amended and according to their records Suikerbekkie is not a public school. He said there also was never an agreement between the Department of Public Works and any entity, especially outside government, to sell any building when there is a user department, in this case the Department of Education, for the premises.
He urged all schools to ensure that they operate within the South African Schools Act to benefit from state provided services.
Story: NELIE ERASMUS