Pupils at Ngweze Primary School in the Zambezi region have had to endure seven years of learning surrounded by sewage pools as authorities struggle to mend burst sewerage pipes.
There are fears that learners at the school, located in the heart of Katima Mulilo, might end up with serious health complications from playing in contaminated water.
Teachers at the school, which houses over 1,700 learners, are calling on government to close the facility while a permanent solution to their waste management and plumbing problems is being found.
According to some of the teachers who spoke to the Windhoek Observer on condition of anonymity, education authorities in the area have developed a “laid back attitude” and have not shown any willingness to resolve the crisis which has been ongoing in varying degrees since 2011.
They complained of intimidation and threats from the Regional Education Director, Austin Samupwa, who they say has been “sitting on the problem” for a long time.
The teachers say they are considering taking drastic measures, such as a peaceful demonstration, to force the ministry to close the school.
“Schools should be places of safety for children to learn and grow and right now, Ngweze Primary School is not,” one of the teachers said.
The Windhoek Observer has seen photos from the school which highlight a poignant picture of flooded sewage water, forcing learners to use bricks as a bridge to move from one classroom to another.
One teacher said life at Ngweze Primary School is increasingly becoming unbearable.
“This is not a conducive environment for human beings. Sewage smell is not healthy, it is affecting us. Learners play around in that water. We cannot use ablution facilities and there seem to be no permanent solution,” he said.
The situation is said to be worse during the rainy season when the school is flooded to the point where water flows into classrooms and block pathways.
“The situation is painful. Sometimes, when there is flooding, the pupils from the lower grades wash their hands in the dirty water because they cannot differentiate between rain water and sewage water,” one of the teachers complained, adding that those who are supposed to deal with the situation seem to be shifting responsibility while nothing concrete happens.
“We reported to the town council only to be told that it was a Ministry of Works and Transport problem. But, the ministry officials came and looked at the problem then referred us back to the town council.”
It is suspected that the sewerage system at the school is insufficient for the large number of learners, where the teacher to leaner ratio in some classes stands at 1:60.
Samupwa rubbished claims that he has done nothing about the sewage problem, adding that it is something that every Katima resident has had to endure.
He said the main reason why it was so bad at the school was because of the school’s location.
“Because the school is situated at the lower level of the town, when there is pressure at the council pond where sewerage is stored due to heavy rain, the pipes burst. At the moment there is nothing that can be done,” Samupwa said.
He also said resolving the sewerage problem was not his responsibility, but that of the council.
“Although the school is under my jurisdiction, I am not responsible for the pipes. The system is not responding to the needs of the school. The council is doing the best they can,” he said.
A Windhoek based health expert Lilliane Kahuika said such a situation can cause serious health complications for the learners.
“If children play in the water and later touch their food it can result in intestinal infections. Sewerage water has to be channelled appropriately away from humans. It can be quite dangerous,” Kahuika said.
She stressed that in areas where there have been cases of a cholera outbreak, the chances of people getting the disease are very high.
Currently, Windhoek residents living in informal settlements are grappling with a Hepatitis E outbreak from drinking faecal contaminated water while Zambia, which shares a border with Katima, has also had to deal with a deadly cholera outbreak that his claimed 60 lives.