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Time to act on schools

ONE student was crushed to death and five others were seriously injured when a decrepit building they called a classroom collapsed on them at St Alphonse High School in Masianokeng on Tuesday.

As detailed in our special report in this edition, most of the buildings at the school are so dilapidated that they might carve in any time soon.

The building that collapsed was more than 50 years old and was originally used as a grocery shop.

The other buildings that still remain standing were once used as a kitchen and a storage room before they were turned into classrooms.

Yet this is not the only school operating from inhabitable and rundown premises.

Most of the so-called private schools littered around Maseru operate from such rundown buildings resembling those normally seen in war-torn countries such as Somalia and Iraq.

If the powers-that-be were waiting for someone to die for them to take action, Remaketse Makhele, a 16-year-old orphan, is no more.

May her innocent soul rest in peace.

The lives of thousands other students who have to learn under dangerous conditions we thought were limited to underground gold panners are on the line.

If they are not crushed to death they risk losing their limbs.

If they don’t lose their limbs they risk catching disease.

What when some of them have to learn in corrugated iron sheet-walled hovels passed off as classrooms never mind they might not have acceptable ventilation!

We shudder to imagine how the unfortunate students have been faring at this biting end of the winter season.

The long and short of it is that the government has let down the students at St Alphonse High School and others at equally squalid institutions of learning.

If someone was serious about standards, especially in our education sector, such rundown schools would not have been allowed to operate.

Now that the new Education Act outlaws the operation of schools in premises that have not been approved by the government, we hope the days of the bare-bone schools and makeshift colleges are numbered.

Education is not just about passing on knowledge.

It is about where the learning takes place too.

Otherwise, at this rate, we won’t be surprised to see schools being operated even in beerhalls.

Yet the whole thing is about the deplorable standards that we as Basotho accept as normal.

Maseru in this day and age still resembles a medieval town shorn of neatly erected buildings and skyscrapers that define cities elsewhere in Africa and beyond.

Year in year out we hear of roofs being blown off houses in and around Maseru by winds.

All people can moan about is the Disaster Management Authority taking long to help affected people by probably replacing their roofs.

But for how long will the government have to replace blown-away roofs?

Is it not time that people realised they need to ensure they roof their houses according to acceptable standards that will stand even the harshest of weather conditions?

This is where the standards should start from.

And the government ought to take charge and inspect every house or building that is erected in the capital and other towns.

People should see this as an effort to protect them.

Maseru is no longer a big village where anyone can build whatever they want without urban planning experts inspecting it.

We don’t want people being crushed to death in their sleep.

Neither do we want again to read about classroom blocks collapsing on students.

After buildings, the government ought to ensure we have proper roads.

Kingsway, Pioneer and Kofi Annan are not the only roads in Maseru.

We have dusty, rocky and impassable paths passing off as streets in our suburbs and villages.

This is so un-2010.

Unless the government can spring into action and ramp up the standards, we will remain holed up in a backward city that no one would believe is in the middle of prosperous South Africa.

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