Land occupiers and special school at odds over land

A school in the Eastern Cape that provides special education to intellectually disabled children is facing a myriad of challenges. The school has an acute shortage of teachers, overcrowding and a critical shortage of special teaching guides.

Luthando Luvuyo Special School in Port Elizabeth. It has been plagued by staff shortages and overcrowding in its classes. The school is also in need of more classrooms. To compound the school’s predicament, next to it is Sharpeville informal settlement.

A school in the Eastern Cape that provides special education to intellectually disabled children is facing a myriad of challenges. The school has an acute shortage of teachers, overcrowding and a critical shortage of special teaching guides.

Luthando Luvuyo Special School in Port Elizabeth was founded in the 1980s. The Zwide-based school is the only one that offers special education in Port Elizabeth’s townships. Ever since the school was started, it has been plagued by staff shortages and overcrowding in its classes. The school is also in need of more classrooms to accommodate the ever-increasing number of disabled children.

To compound the school’s predicament, next to it is Sharpeville informal settlement. It is a small community of 89 shacks that has earned notoriety over the years, and residents refuse to move away to enable the development of the school’s sports ground. The tussle between the school principal and the Sharpeville squatters has ultimately sucked in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality mayor, Athol Trollip.

The mayor is being accused by the squatters of siding with the school because he recently bluntly told them to relocate elsewhere as the land belongs to the school.

School principal, Cathleen Ngomombini explained, “Our school is facing many challenges. We deal with children who need special care. Our classes should be having not more than 14 learners but we have higher numbers, implying that our classes are overcrowded. It would be advisable if we can get prefabricated classrooms to resolve the overcrowding. Just like other schools in the metro, we also have problems with dilapidated infrastructure.

“We are also having a long running dispute with a squatter camp near our school. These people occupied our land illegally. We have tried on several occasions to evict them but they don’t want to and it seems like new people keep coming in. We want to use that piece of land to establish our sports ground. The squatters are endangering the lives of the disabled children because they have illegally connected electricity.

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“The electricity lines are spreading everywhere. The wires are left hanging dangerously. It appears these people have no respect for disabled children. The informal settlement should be removed immediately.”

Meanwhile the squatters are digging in their heels and counterclaiming that the land their shacks are built on legally belongs to them. They also accuse the principal of colluding with the mayor to effect their eviction.

Long-time resident of Sharpeville squatter camp, Nodathini Nyanda, vehemently disputes Ngomombini’s version.

The 72-year-old grandmother of two said, “No one has the right to remove us from this place. We came here in 1988 from Zwide. We were a small group of landless people. The number swelled up as the place became popular. The school was already operating when we arrived. No one ever claimed this land. Ngomombini in 1999 and 2000 even told us that her school was experiencing numerous burglaries. She appealed to us to help her guard the school and report criminal activities to her and the police. She spoke with us with respect and she never called us squatters. We are now shocked at her turnabout. We will not be moved from this place”

She added, “In June 1999, the municipality approached us and told us that we would get houses from a project that was to build 146 houses in the area. Though the project never materialized, successive council officials made numerous promises to us about the prospect of constructing houses for us. We even started receiving service letters from municipality.”

To support her claim, Nyanda produced a document titled “Proposed Rezoning and Subdivision of Erf 46079, Ibhayi (Sharpville)”, dated 15 June 1999.
Part of the document reads “On plan 06C-X-10A, 146 erven are created to accommodate the existing shacks on the site and the school. Council special consent being granted to permit the erection of shelter on the residential area.”

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Executive mayor, Athol Trollip, visited the school last week. He said, “People are occupying the school’s playing field by force. We had a meeting with the land invaders and I told them it was illegal to occupy the land. We are working hard to return the land to the school.”

Reinforcing the mayor’s stance, mayoral spokesperson Sibongile Dimbaza, said, “The mayor would soon approach the provincial Department of Education to resolve the grievances raised by the educators at the school with regards to overcrowding, lack of classrooms and other pertinent issues. However the issue of the illegal land occupiers would have to be done using the respective municipal by-laws. We have to ensure that in future no more illegal occupation of open land would happen. Squatters at Sharpeville should be moved because they are occupying school property.”

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About Joseph Chirume 11 Articles
I was born in the shoe manufacturing town of Gweru in Zimbabwe,1970. I came to South Africa and did some odd jobs before writing for a number of publications. At present I am doing a Masters in Journalism through distance learning.