Day Zero: Sadtu accuses Premier Helen Zille of delaying water plan announcement

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Thabo Mohlala

South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) Western Cape has lashed out at Premier Helen Zille for reacting so late to the situation which threatens to lead to a complete shutdown of schooling in the province. Premier Zille is scheduled to meet with the principals of around 1000 schools in the greater Cape region this weekend.

In a statement released on Thursday, the union accused Zille’s government of not caring about schools, particularly those catering for the working class, leaving them to develop their own water plans.

“They are expecting schools to develop their own respective water plans, HOW? She has at this late stage summoned school principals to a meeting to discuss the water crisis in the city and surrounding areas,” the union said.

Sadtu said the provincial government took so long to involve schools in the plans related to Day Zero, adding it was concerned “about the safety of stock piling water and what the health risk of this exercise will entail”.

The union also said turning off the taps at schools would cause disastrous, health and safety issues.

“Many schools have more than 1000 learners and turning off the taps will have a catastrophic effect on the health and well-being of learners in our schools. [This] will lead to a huge sanitation disaster, the collapse of the school feeding scheme, lack of drinking water, water for learners who are injured at school, fire and other hazards,” said Sadtu.

Other concerns it highlighted included an increase in learner absenteeism or complete stay aways because parents could send their children to collect water as well as malnutrition and starvation beacuse most working-class children received their only meal through school nutrition programmes and turning off the taps would jeopardise these.  

“We are calling on the province not to switch off water at schools, but rather to ensure it stays connected when schools are open,” pledging to increase its water saving awareness programme through its 14000 members.

The union’s concerns come shortly after the provincial education department gave assurances that it has put contingency measures in place to ensure schools do not close during the water crisis. The department’s Jessica Shelver told Inside Education that plans would be announced once they have been finalised and this is what got the Sadtu’s ire.

Shelver said the provincial government conducted an assessment of the approximately 400 schools with existing boreholes and that the majority of these boreholes required minimal work to operationalize for hygiene and fire safety purposes.

 “We are also finalising plans for schools that require additional support to secure their water supply. A range of measures are under consideration, including additional water storage and the distribution of water to schools,” said Shelver.

Added Shelver: “WCED also identified schools as strategic agencies to spread the message and contribute to water saving measures.” Last November and early this year, the department issued guidelines to schools to notify them about Level 6 water restrictions.

“[The] schools are well placed to contribute to water saving, given the learner population in the Western Cape. They are also well placed to educate families about water saving, via their children,” said Shelver.

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