Three hungry pupils flee fly-by-night school school

Sibongile Mashaba and Photos: Antonio Muchave

Sibongile Mashaba and Photos: Antonio Muchave

Three desperate pupils had a lucky escape after fleeing a dilapidated boarding school in Johannesburg because they were hungry. A Good Samaritan found the traipsing tots and took them to the police.

Principal Caroline Lobi of Progressive Preparatory School in central Johannesburg failed to inform their parents that the children were missing.

Progressive Preparatory is housed in a rundown two-storey building on Nugget Street, one of the city's busiest taxi routes. The school is not registered with the education department, but is listed as a non-profit organisation by the social development department.

The premises reek of urine. The building has no ceilings and is partitioned into classrooms with makeshift cupboards.

The upper storey is used as a nursery school for 84 tots and the lower level is a primary school for 77 pupils in grades 1 to 7.

The building also doubles as a boarding dormitory for 11 children, said Zenzo Sibanda, one of the eight teachers. The kids sleep in classrooms under her supervision.

Parents of boarders were not told the school had no dormitories and that their children slept on mattresses and used "donkey" blankets in the classrooms.

Siphiwe, 6, and Makhanana Sithole, 9, from Soweto, and Nelisiwe Cetshwayo, 6, of Tembisa escaped from the school on Saturday morning.

Siphiwe and Makhanana were reunited with their grandmother at her home in Snake Park, Soweto, on Saturday night. Nelisiwe was staying with her friends until officials found her mother, but late yesterday afternoon police took her to a place of safety.

Nelisiwe said she missed her mother, who has not been at work since reporting sick on April 30.

"We sometimes went to class without food and other times we would be given cold food," said Makhanana. "We were hungry and when a woman left the entrance gate open we decided to go home."

Siphiwe said the hungry trio skipped out because they had not been given breakfast that day.

Only on Monday did Lobi send two teachers to look for the runaways in Soweto, where she suspected they had fled.

"The school is registered with the department of education. They, together with the department of social development, provide food for us," Lobi said.

"I have only seven children who sleep here in classrooms on mattresses.

"There is a teacher who stays with them and a security guard to ensure their safety."

Boarders pay R300 a month for accommodation and "get three meals a day", she said. Parents of pupils older than one year pay R200 for tuition and care and R230 for infants younger than one year old.

The Sithole pair's grandmother, Elsie, said she would not send the pupils back to the school.

"I cannot imagine what might have happened to them had they been found by an evil person."

Sithole, a domestic worker, said she was shocked when police knocked on her door with her grandchildren in tow.

She said the children had started at the school this year and she had already bought them school uniforms.

The building's owner, identified only as Alex, said: "Caroline pays R9000 a month for rent." But he failed to respond to other questions.

Police said they could not investigate the school until charges have been laid. lFor more pictures see Page 20