BUILDING BLUES

R82m Tembisa school built next to leaky sewer line – R32m more needed to fix the mess

By Ayanda Mthethwa 16 September 2020

A general view of Mayibuye temporary school on September 08, 2020 in Midrand, South Africa. It is reported that the Gauteng Legislature?s Portfolio Committee on Infrastructure Development & Property Management invited members of the media to a tour at Mayibuye Primary School to expose the wastage of R82 000 000 that went into constructing a school on a waterlogged area. (Photo by Gallo Images/Sharon Seretlo)

News of an R82m school in Tembisa, alleged to have been built on a wetland, flooded the media after a Gauteng legislature committee threatened to lay criminal charges against the contractors. Now, Gauteng’s Department of Infrastructure Development and the Department of Education have approached the provincial treasury for an additional R32m to divert a leaking sewer line flooding the school.

Learners at Mayibuye Primary School in Tembisa, Midrand, have been subjected to attending school in prefabricated classrooms for 17 years. 

When it was announced in 2015 that the school and its learners would finally have a brick-and-mortar structure, it marked the beginning of a new era for the Mayibuye school community, said the school’s governing body chairperson, Mokgonyane Koenite. 

But five years later, learners are still waiting for the day they can use the R82-million school that has turned into a white elephant. 

“The temporary containers are old and learners no longer have a good learning experience,” Koenite said. “All we want is for our learners to get the opportunity to learn under the roof of a good structure.” 

When the Gauteng legislature’s committee on infrastructure development sounded the alarm on the state of the newly built school on 7 September, its main concern was that the school had been built on a “waterlogged” area. 

A further concern was that the school was built in contravention of the National Building Regulations and Building Standard Act 103, 1977 as Amended. Not only that, but the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) is yet to issue a certificate of occupancy for the school due to the contractor’s failure to submit outstanding documentation. 

According to the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development’s spokesperson, Bongiwe Gambu, reports that the school is built on a waterlogged area are misleading. 

“The department wishes to stress that the school was not built on a wetland. This allegation is extremely unfortunate, misleading and malicious. Contrary to claims that there is a wetland, there is a sewer line that was discovered when the engineers conducted a wetland investigation.” 

The joint venture contractor, Basic Blue/Nebavest, is said to have conducted a wetland investigation before construction began in 2017, and that is when they discovered what the department has described as “an old sewer line”. 

The department  said the sewer line had been “leaking for years” and the municipality had no record of its existence. If the sewer line had been discovered before the start of construction, why was it not attended to?

Gambu passed the buck to the CoJ, saying “the permanent solution has to be addressed by the CoJ to do stormwater and sewer line upgrades”. In the meantime, the department would ensure that the contractor resumed with plans to divert the sewer line from the vicinity of the school. 

The additional R32-million requested by the provincial Department of Infrastructure Development and the Gauteng Department of Education (the client department) from the provincial treasury will cover costs to divert the sewer line to prevent it from leaking on to the school premises, Gambu said. 

It will also cover costs to build an access road to the school. The initial road  had to be changed “because, during construction, members of the community began putting up temporary structures on what should have been the access road”, Gambu said. 

Explaining why the CoJ told the infrastructure committee that the school had been built in contravention of building regulations, Samuel Maluleke, acting director of building development management for the city, said although the site development plan (SDP) for the school had been approved, they were yet to receive the building plan from the contractor. 

“SDP approval is not the final construction permit to commence with the construction of any type of construction or building. The building plan is required,” Maluleke said. 

The construction company had not responded to questions from Daily Maverick by the time of publication. 

On Wednesday 16 September, the South African Human Rights Commission visited the school to conduct a site inspection. 

The commission’s provincial manager, Buang Jones, confirmed to Daily Maverick that contrary to media reports, the school had been built on a wetland, “the commission’s team observed that the school is not built on a wetland, but rather that it is frequently wet because of a persistently leaking sewer line”.

Jones said the commission would convene a meeting with the Education Department, the Department of Infrastructure Development, the CoJ and the provincial treasury on 22 September. 

“We will engage with reports from the different departments to find implementable solutions,” said Jones. 

Chairperson of the infrastructure committee Mpho Modise told Daily Maverick that although the committee wanted to open a criminal case, “we were advised by the legislature’s legal team that legislation dictates that we should first hold a committee inquiry”.

Modise said whatever misunderstandings existed among the parties would be resolved.

“We won’t let such a beautiful school go to waste.” DM

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  • So did the initial contractors get paid for this? Despite the fact they haven’t filed all the paper work? Who is really going to pay the extra R32m to fix this and why has it been allowed to sit festering and rotting for the past three years while people passed the buck?

    • Smells like,… You know – What’s that smell?? Oh – yeah, an open sewer where taxpayer money flows towards unqualified contractors with political affiliations while no-one takes responsibility for the pillaging of public funds. Why do we still not have accountability on mismanagement like this?

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