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Barristers at 1 Pump Court have raised funds to help build a pre-school in South Africa's Eastern Cape. In March, two members of the chambers, Melanie Johnson and Adrienne Barnett, drove from East London to seven miles outside Mthatha in the district of Libode to pay a visit.
The legal starting age for school was seven years and from this point, primary education was provided free by the state, although children under seven living in more affluent communities would typically attend fee-paying pre-schools. Bucking the trend, some 10 years ago, the community of Mzimkhulu, led by Lorraine "Mama" Poswa, started a pre-school for under-sevens.
Johnson, a family law specialist, says: "The difficulty, of course was money." There was no money to purchase equipment, to pay the teachers, and no money to build a school. Classes were held outside under the trees in the summer and in Mama Poswa's house in bad weather.
In 1999 London's ANC Support Group started assisting the community with funding for the school. "Monies were raised on an ad hoc basis to provide books and teaching materials and to pay the teachers," says Johnson. "This assistance was vital in keeping the school going. However, what the community needed and wanted, first and foremost, was a school building."
The chambers became involved in raising funds to build the school. Two years later sufficient monies had been raised to build the first part of the school project.
The land for the school was donated personally by Chief Mzimkhulu Mdamase as a gift to the community, and early in 2004 the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs agreed to the school's construction. A project manager from Cape Town and a local architect from Mthatha were engaged and, at the end of last year, the construction of the school was completed.
Johnson, together with fellow members of chambers, recently wrote the Blackstones guide to the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act and will give the royalties to the school.
"The school is particularly important because it is in the area formerly known as the Transkei. This was intended by the architects of 'grand apartheid' as a 'homeland' for the Xhosa-speaking population of South Africa. In reality, it was a means of reserving the vast, fertile areas of the country for the minority white population and limiting the black population to more arid, over-grazed areas where they were intended to be reserved as a labour-force as and when it was needed," she says. "As a result, the community is typical of those in South Africa's rural areas, which sustained the worst of the poverty, deprivation and oppression meted out by the apartheid system."
A second classroom is urgently needed to accommodate the growing number of children, as well as toilets and fencing. Donations will be gratefully received care of 1 Pump Court.