Fire havoc at PE school

Thieves destroy classrooms, storeroom at Bayview Primary


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IN A devastating blow for a school in an impoverished part of Port Elizabeth’s northern areas, four classrooms and a storeroom filled with brand new textbooks were completely gutted in a blaze started by thieves in the early hours of yesterday.

The fire at no-fees school Bayview Primary in Helenvale – where unemployment is rife – started at about 3.30am and destroyed about R200 000 worth of just-delivered textbooks, exercise books and stationery.

The damage to the classrooms, one of which includes a science laboratory, is expected to run into millions of rands.


Shattered principal Tyrone Johannes, who was still in the pyjama pants he had been wearing when he rushed to the school at about 5am, said the school had no funds to replace the books or repair the damage.

He said Bayview Primary relied solely on the Department of Education for its funding.

“I feel like I have lost a child. That is truly how it feels,” he said.

“I have been here for 17 years now. Other principals have been visiting me and some have been sending messages of support, but it really feels like someone has died.

“Right now my main concern is the children. I must prepare to tell them that there are no books. Nothing is left.”

To make matters worse, the arsonists also looted a special community initiative at the school.

NMMU student Shumeeka Caderbegg said she and her father had been working on building a library at the school as part of a social responsibility project for her honours year.

“A group of students in my class were helping, but my dad has actually taken over and he was building the shelves for the library,” the upset student said.

“We came in this morning and found that cabling for the computer section had been stolen.

“A sink in the corner was also stolen, along with some of my dad’s tools and ladders.”

Caderbegg also pointed out footprints on the walls of the library where the thieves apparently climbed out of the window with the stolen goods.

No schooling took place at Bayview yesterday.

At the intermediate phase block, where the fire broke out, smoke filled the air and the water used to extinguish the flames was still gushing from classrooms upstairs.

Four classrooms have been gutted, with the roofs, desks and flooring destroyed.

Johannes said the school already faced several challenges as it would have four fewer teachers next year.

“We can work around the classroom issue and try to teach the children in shifts when we come back next year.

“But the main problem is the books, because we cannot teach without books and stationery.

“We will need to look at alternatives somehow, but there will be school. I do not know where help will come from.”

He believed thieves had broken into the school and started the fire.

“One of the padlocks to a classroom was broken off and they then gained access to the other classrooms through the ceilings.

“The fire started in the storeroom where all our books were kept for next year.

“In my mind, this was no accident, but I am waiting for a report from the fire department,” he said. “The books were delivered this week and were packed in the office, but it was cramped in here so we moved them to the storeroom only yesterday [Wednesday].”

Downstairs classrooms had also suffered smoke and water damage, he said.

He was alerted to the fire by a colleague at about 5am.

“I came immediately when I got the call,” Johannes said.

“The fire brigade was already here trying to extinguish the fire.”

He said he would compile a report for the district department and give a statement to the police.

Grade 5 pupil Mary-Jane Solomons said she was one of a few pupils who had left their schoolbags in one of the gutted classrooms.

She said since the exams were over, some of them had left their bags locked up in the classroom for safe-keeping. “All my books are gone. My bag is gone,” Mary-Jane said tearfully.

“My mother woke me up to say the school was burning, but I thought she was joking.

“When I got up and saw the flames, I went back inside and cried because I love this school,” she said. Helenvale mother Berenice Fredericks, 49, said she had two children, in Grade R and Grade 4, at the school.

“It is sad. All the parents here are very sad because we do not know what is going to happen,” Fredericks said.

“The school is closed today but we do not know what will happen tomorrow or next week.

“This school does not have any money to fix this.”

Northern Areas Education Forum secretary Richard Draai said he was devastated. “It is tragic, especially in an area like Helenvale where there are so many social ills.

“With all these books destroyed, it simply adds another financial burden to the school.

“I am sure the department can assist by channelling funds from its infrastructure budget.

“However, we need something done immediately. This cannot be tied up in red tape.”

Provincial Department of Education spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said: “This is an absolute shock. It is very sad to see the extent to which some people devalue education by not only destroying classrooms but new books as well.”

He said the matter would require urgent attention and the department would be waiting for the report from Johannes and the district department.

Police spokeswoman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said Gelvandale police were investigating a possible case of arson.

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