Learning up in flames

Classrooms at the Mphatlalatsane Combined School in Qwaqwa, one of three Free State schools to suffer fire damage in only two months, are still in ruins. Photo: Tladi Moloi

Classrooms at the Mphatlalatsane Combined School in Qwaqwa, one of three Free State schools to suffer fire damage in only two months, are still in ruins. Photo: Tladi Moloi

The Free State Department of Education is contending with more costs incurred due to a “mystery fire” after another school building has burnt.

Damage was done to the Intuthuko Katleho Secondary School in Vrede.

This fire reportedly occurred on Friday (22/07) at about 03:00.

Firefighters of the Phumelela Local Municipality, which governs Vrede, Warden and Memel, were unable to put out the flames that burnt the school to the ground.

Jan van Niekerk of the Freedom Front Plus said farmers had tried in vain to save the school buildings from the raging blaze, while the municipality’s fire brigade reportedly arrived on the scene at about 06:30 – when the flames had already engulfed the school.

Howard Ndaba, spokes­person for the department, said the incident had severely impacted learning and teaching progress, having forced the relocation of about 1 050 learners and 31 teachers to another school.

“The fire destroyed the entire administration block and 23 of the 25 classrooms,” stated Ndaba.

“School furniture, computers, learner support materials and other critical documents were also destroyed by this inferno.”

Ndaba said the cause of the fire was being investigated.

The MEC for Education, Tate Makgoe, visited the school on Monday to assess the extent of the damage and also to implement an emergency plan for affected learners and teachers.

A decision was taken to accommodate learners at two local schools, the Evungwini Secondary School and the Thembalihle Primary School, with immediate effect on Tuesday.

Senior phase learners, in Gr. 10 to Gr. 12, have been accommodated at Evungwini while junior phase learners, in Gr. 8 and Gr. 9, were sent to Thembalihle.

“The department will provide at least 20 mobile classes, depending on their size, to be put up on the unused available grounds adjacent to the school. These grounds were originally used by Thembalihle Primary,” said Ndaba.

“The mobile classes the department will provide should augment the six mobile classes currently available on the school site,” said Ndaba.

He said the management of the affected school, educators and clerks have been encouraged to improvise and use the available laptops that are still with educators as part of the emergency plan.

The fire at Intuthuko Katleho is the third incident of its kind to take place in about two months.

A fire destroyed two classrooms at the Mphatlalatsane Combined School in the Makwane Village, Qwaqwa, and a hostel apartment at the Dr Blok Secondary School in Bloemfontein early in June.

The fire at the Qwaqwa school also partly affected two classrooms that form part of the block on which the two destroyed classrooms are.

It is strongly suspected that the cause of the fire was related to arson.

The fire has caused disarray to learning and teaching at Mphatlalatsane.

According to the department, the incident affected about 1 000 learners and has resulted in unnecessary overcrowding.

The department is yet to quantify the cost of repair.

According to the department, at the time the fire erupted there was no power supply in the area where the school is situated.