No room for play

TAURIQ HASSEN

The lack of adequate recreational space for pupils attending Holy Cross Primary School in Zonnebloem is having a serious impact on their development and also poses safety risks for pupils.

An unsecured derelict piece of land neighbouring the school acts as a temporary playground for pupils but with access to the busy roads, coupled with some homeless people settling on the land, the school fears for their safety.

To make matters worse, when winter arrives, the children will be confined to a classroom as the school simply has no playground available.

Principal Donovan Williams said they could not provide their children with the freedom to “work off unused energy” and because of this the school is also losing out on possible future sporting stars.

“For athletics practise we have to make use of another institutions’ facilities. We have a handball programme going and in order to participate, the pupils have to cross a busy street to get there. This of course creates security and safety issues,” Mr Williams said.

The school has entered a football tournament next month, but Mr Williams has already accepted that they will be disadvantaged as they do not have proper facilities for the players to practise on.

“We have no soccer field on which to practics, so again we will be disadvantaged, but our children’s determination and excitement will be the driving force behind our efforts to be ready and to be there,” he said.

Mr Williams said the lack of proper recreational spaces for children often leads to boredom, ill discipline, attention seeking in the wrong way, mixing with the wrong element, the possibility of drug abuse, gangsterism and alcohol abuse.

“These are the biggest fears within our society today. Having proper sporting facilities and playing fields can help to prevent some of these if pupils are able to discover their physical potential and realise their dreams of a brighter future.

“Children need to be developed holistically. This not only highlights prowess outside the area of academics, but also assists tremendously in breaking boredom and the monotony of sitting in a class. It also assists with, and prevents unnecessary, discipline problems,” Mr Williams said.

The Tatler arrived at the school just as the bell sounded for the first interval, with children rushing out of the doors and onto the derelict patch of land alongside the school. The interval break is supervised by some teaching staff and student representatives.

A concerned parent, Maxine van der Westhuizen, said it was “quite simply a sad case”, especially with the school being surrounded by vacant pockets of land, yet not having a playground of its own.

She said the dangers of having children play in the current conditions stood out “like a sore thumb”.

“Whoever is supposed to approve this thing obviously wants a few more solitary cases to justify why they must hand this land to the school – must a child die, must something happen for them to do something about this issue. How can a school operate without a proper playground?” Ms Van der Westhuizen asked.

However, Bululwa Mathunzi, a parent from Khayelistha, said the issue seemed to be much more complex than it seems.

She said that most of the land is being reclaimed, and this could be the reason for the hold-up. “But still, it is no excuse for the school and our children not to have a playground to use.

“I believe this problem has been going on for years now. This land has also been standing empty for years. If some rich developer came along and put lots of money on the table, I’m sure this land would have been occupied,” Ms Mathunzi said.

The concerned mother of four said she feared for her children’s lives, especially after witnessing the anti-social behaviour taking place opposite the school.

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, confirmed that the City’s law enforcement services department received complaints about the homeless on the open field.

He explained that the complaints were mainly about the fires the homeless were making and also about makeshift structures that were erected on that piece of land.

The department conducted their last inspection on Thursday April 14 along with members of the Cape Town Central Improvement District (CCID), with the last operation having taken place on Wednesday April 6.

This joint operation was held with members of the South African Police Service, the CCID, the City’s social development department, and law enforcement. Eight people were profiled, all of whom refused offers of assistance.

“They were then warned and removed from the area by officers. A total of six makeshift structures were also demolished and all the materials were removed from the area,” Mr Smith said.

“The area has been declared a hot spot and the City will conduct regular ad-hoc visits to the site. The area will also be the focus of special operations,” he added.

Millicent Merton, spokeswoman for the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), confirmed that the WCED received requests from Holy Cross Primary School, to support application to use the City-owned land opposite and behind the school grounds for recreational purposes.

“On his visits to the school, the circuit manager found that there was no recreational area for the pupils. The surrounding area is gravel-ridden (area behind the main school building) and the vacant land opposite the main building is hilly and not suitable for pupils to play on,” Ms Merton said.

In terms of any fencing being erected, the WCED felt that if the land should be leased or apportioned to the school, “our infrastructure directorate will assist where possible”.

“The district is concerned about the safety of the pupils, especially during their lunch breaks. The circuit manager checks, via the principal, that educators are on duty whenever the pupils are outside during break. Also, the school governing body hires a security company to monitor the school grounds during the day,” Ms Merton said.

She said the WCED has not received any complaints about the growing number of people currently living on the vacant land.

Although ward councillor Brett Herron was not aware of the concerns surrounding the Holy Cross Primary School, he said the school not having a proper playground for the children is a concern.

“Adequate school facilities including recreational space is essential for the education and development of children. It would be a great pity if we could not find a solution,” he said.

In terms of the surrounding land, Mr Herron said it was a “difficult” matter to resolve as most of the land in and around the school is subject to land claims in terms of the District Six land restitution process.

“The City could consider use of the City-owned parcel of land on Searle Street, but I am not aware that there has been any request to the City to consider this. The site I am referring to is part of the greater Trafalgar Park precinct,” Mr Herron said.