An impressive follow-up report by City Press on two schools devastated by tornado storms in 2009, receives a GLAD from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA). The paper shares the GLAD with SABC 2’sinvestigative journalism programme, Fokus – which also highlighted the dire situation at one of the schools.

“Rain stops classes at ruined schools,” (City Press, 30/01/2011, p.8) reported on Rwantsana Junior Secondary School in the Eastern Cape, which was destroyed by a tornado in 2009. According to the article, “despite promises (from the education department), the school wasn’t rebuilt, nor was a temporary shelter erected. Schooling had to take place in the open – when the weather allowed.”

The journalist, Melanie-Ann Feris, also visited a second school in the Eastern Cape which was wrecked by a tornado in October 2009. She reports that “things aren’t better at Nomkolokoto Junior Secordary School…. More than 200 pupils had to be taught in the open.” This, according to the article, was due to the provincial department failing to pay a supplier who had provided tents to the school after the disaster, resulting in the tents being removed.

Feris went on to paint a general picture of problems facing schools in the Eastern Cape. These included teacher absenteeism, lack of stationery and transport and “massive corruption” in the transport programme which reportedly lead to an overspending of millions of rands.

Powerful and provoking images of pupils taken by photojournalist Denvor De Wee – including one where they sat outside under a desk in attempts to find shelter from the rain – accompanied the report. These depicted how children who come to learn, are forced to endure the harshest of circumstances. are ultimately the ones at the receiving end of the stick.

The journalist also brought balance to the article by accessing a principal of one of the schools; a spokesperson from an opposition party and a member of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU). She also sought an interview with a superintendent-general from the education department, however according to the article the “promised interview…did not materialise.”

Feris went further and put a name and face to the pupils at one of the schools. The child, 16-year-old Yamkela, allowed Feris and De Wee to catch a glimpse of a day in his challenging life. This was only one of a thousand stories of children in the Eastern Cape, who are just like Yamkela or have it worse.

According to the article, “Despite odds, Yamkela may realise his dreams,” (City Press, 30/11/2011, p.9) Yamkela wakes up at 5am to go school and walks 2.6km – without having eaten anything. The article describes how the nutrition programme at his school has not yet started and so the teenager only eats at night after completing chores like washing his school shirt and ironing it with a metal iron, heated over the fire. Despite this grim picture of the socio-economic background facing children in the province, the article also emphasised this boy’s hopes and dreams of becoming a doctor.. The article made clear that this boy is not a helpless victim, rather he is making the best of his difficult situation. Nevertheless he and his school have been let down by those with the power to help.

SABC 2’s Investigative journalism programme Fokus, aired on 30 January 2011, also paid a visit to Yamkela’s school. The programme also highlighted the devastation at the school and spoke to teachers and a Grade 7 pupil who all expressed the difficulties they face whilst trying to teach and learn.

“It’s very difficult to be outside because when it’s raining we have to go home but we want to learn,” the pupil said.  Giving the child a voice fell in line with Media Monitoring Africa’s guidelines on reporting on children which state: “Children have the right to participate in matters that affect them. By providing children with opportunities to speak for themselves – about their hopes, fears, and achievements, and the impact of adult behaviour ob their lives – media professionals can remind the public of children’s rights.”

We congratulate both Fokus and City Press for holding government accountable and reminding the rest of us of the challenges faced by children, not only in the Eastern Cape, but across the country.