school at last

Canaan Mdletshe

For the first time in nearly in its history, the small and poverty-stricken communities of Dapha and Nkovukeni, on the outskirts of Kosi Bay in northern Zululand, will be getting their first proper schools.

The community, nine kilometres from the Mozambique border, has lived on the tiny island for 300 years.

For islanders to travel to the nearby town of Manguzi, they have to rely on home-made boats to cross a river infested with hippos and water snakes.

The area was declared a world heritage site in 1999 and falls under the Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park.

At the weekend the communities were given the good news that the KwaZulu-Natal education department will spend R10million to build two schools on the island.

Construction for the new buildings will begin over the next three weeks and will accommodate about 130 pupils.

"The people are poor and the conditions are very challenging," said local chief Mabhuti Tembe.

"This development is sorely needed and I hope this is the beginning of greater things to come."

He said the locals had learnt to explore their creative skills by building boats and doing other crafts.

Chairman of the school governing body (SGB), Khehla Ngubane, said that in the 1930s a Roman Catholic Church building was used as a school.

The building became too small so people erected make-shift structures to house the growing number of children who desperately wanted to learn.

"Our community has about 65 villages and there are no facilities. We had to use what we had to try and build a school and now that we are between a big lake and the sea, it makes things even more difficult for us," said Ngubane.

News of the development was a dream come true.

"People walk 28km to Manguzi if they want to buy anything and first have to cross the Umhlanga river using a boat," said Ngubane.

KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Ina Cronje said when she first visited the area two years ago she was horrified.

"I saw a building called a school but it had cracks so big that you could put your whole arm through them and the roof was crumbling."

She said that despite a relatively small number of enrolments, the department decided to build schools for the community.

"What is important is the child's right to proper education.

"We have shared your dream of having a school and this also became our dream," she said to school principal Thokozani Tsilo, whose 85 pupils now use tents as classrooms.

Tsilo said the new school would make a big difference to their lives.