Eastern Cape builder damages schools’ toilets because he wasn’t paid for services

The high court in Mthatha has found that a contractor who had built school toilets at four schools in the Eastern Cape and then vandalised the buildings had violated the rights of learners to an education. 

Last week Tuesday the court ordered Jerry Sifanele and his company, Siyaphambili Trading 98 CC, to repair the toilet buildings and pay the cost of the court application.

This is after Sifanele had stripped the roofs off three school’s toilet blocks in the OR Tambo district municipality, which resulted in the schools not opening on June 8 because they were not compliant with some of the Covid-19 regulations. Sifanele said he had done this in protest because he was still owed money for building the toilets. 

In her judgment Judge Nomathamsanqa Beshe said that numerous court interdicts had been issued by the high court against Sifanele and his company to stop him dismantling or removing building materials from the schools. 

One order, issued on June 7, interdicted Sifanele and anyone associated with his company or employed by it from entering the four schools. In April last year he had put padlocks on the blocks of toilets at Xwili Primary, Tantseka Junior, Gwegwe Junior Secondary and Julukuqu Junior Secondary schools. The Daily Dispatch reported in May last year that teachers and learners had to relieve themselves in the veld for two months. The Eastern Cape department of education then approached the court. 

Even though Sifanele had a court interdict barring him from coming near the schools, the Daily Dispatch reported in August that he had gone to Gwegwe Junior Secondary and removed the roof of the school’s toilets. 

According to the newspaper, Sifanele was appointed by Mvula Trust in 2015 to build toilet blocks at the schools and he completed the work in 2016. He claimed that he had not been paid his outstanding money for the job. 

But Mvula Trust, according to the newspaper report, said it had paid Siyaphambili Trading for work done and what was outstanding was final accounts that had to be approved by the department of public works and independent quantity surveyors. But Sifanele had refused to accept the amounts in the final accounts. 

In her judgment, Beshe said an order of August 2019 by the high court had found that  Sifanele was in contempt of the court order issued in June last year and was sentenced to six months imprisonment, which was suspended on condition that he repair the toilet block at Gwege Junior Secondary. 

Sifanele did the repairs. 

But during the Covid-19 lockdown, when schools were closed, he dismantled the toilet blocks at Tsantseka, Julukunqu and Xwili schools. 

“As a result of this, the schools’ ablution facilities were rendered to be non-compliant with the requirements for re-opening following the closure/shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Functional toilets being one of these requirements. Consequently, the three schools will not reopen until there are proper ablution facilities in place. In that way, the learners’ rights to basic education will be compromised,” reads the judgment. 

Beshe said that although Sifaleni had said in an affidavit that he had taken action because he had not been paid for the work he had done, he had no right to take the law in his own hands and thereby infringe the Constitutional right of learners at the three schools to get an education. 

“This ranging pandemic [Covid-19] has exacerbated matters. It requires that we observe high standards of cleanliness and hygiene. Besides the pandemic, the best interest of the children, which are paramount, dictates that their rights to inter alia education and dignity be safeguarded. There are lawful means of resolving disputes between parties, and that is not by taking the law into one’s hands,” reads the judgment. 

Sifanele was ordered to fix the toilets at Tsantseka, Julukunqu and Xwili schools within 20 days of the court having granted the order.

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