18 November 2019

The Eastern Cape Department of
Education this week apologised to learners at a primary school that was meant
to be rebuilt in 2017, after pictures went viral of them writing their exams
outside dilapidated mud classrooms. The department was also hit with a court
order compelling it to fix another school’s toilets – something it had failed
to do so since 2013.

“Delivery of schools’ infrastructure in the Eastern Cape is a complex
undertaking with many different role-players involved. In terms of the
Provincial Infrastructure Delivery Framework, the Department of Education uses
implementing agents and only implements a limited number of maintenance
projects itself,” department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said.

According to the department, the construction of a new school building
for children from Mhlontlo, Ntywenka Village near Tsolo had to be abandoned due
to “geological challenges” and the delivery of prefabricated classrooms and
bathrooms for use in the interim never happened.

He said the construction of the new Mcheni Junior Secondary School,
valued at more than R20-million, began in 2017.

“The school was 60% completed when it had to be stopped due to
structural defects mainly caused by geological challenges,” he said.

He said by then 52% of the budget had been spent and the project was
terminated as they tried to find a solution.

Mtima said prefabricated classrooms and bathrooms were supposed to have
been set up and they were looking into this.

“The department wishes to apologise to the educators and learners at
Mcheni Junior Secondary School; and the parents and the community for this
matter and hope to resolve the situation to the satisfaction of the school
before the start of the 2020 academic year.

“The school and the SGB, with the support of the district office, are
currently looking at finding an alternative venue so that learners can finish
writing their exams, protected from the elements.”

In a second case, the department faced legal
 in the Eastern Cape High Court sitting in Makhanda over
fire-damaged toilets at Nombulelo Senior Secondary School. Despite extensive
efforts of successive principals, the Department of Education’s district
office, the Office of the Premier and the Portfolio Committee on Education, the
toilets have not been fixed for six years.

This has left the nearly 500 boys at the school with no choice but to
relieve themselves under the school stairwell. According to papers before
court, parents also feared for the safety of their children as tiles and
guttering regularly blew off the damaged roof.

Mtima said “We are redirecting a contractor who was allocated work to do
repairs at a school which has subsequently closed down, to fix the bathroom.”

He said they hoped to have it done when the school reopens in 2020.

Marc Jacobs, a researcher at Equal Education, said the department only released its
2018 Norms Progress Report in June 2019.

“According to the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure,
provinces are obliged to report in November of every year on their progress
with implementing the infrastructure requirements set out in the Norms and
Standards. The 2018 report was almost a year late.

“In addition, the report was of extremely poor quality: it contained
duplicate information from old reports, inaccurate and conflicting data and
lacked crucial information such as costed maintenance plans. In a meeting with
Equal Education where we pointed out these shortcomings to the department, [the
department’s superintendent-general] Themba Kojana agreed with our critiques
and committed to reworking the report by August 2019.

Unfortunately, they have not delivered on that commitment yet.

“On October 17, we marched to the offices of the department to hand over
a memorandum of demands to both Kojana and the Eastern Cape Education MEC,
Fundile Gade. Among our demands were that they must deliver on its commitment
to provide a proper and accurate progress report.

“The deadline for the 2019 progress report – 29 November 2019 – is around the corner. We will advocate to see it timeously released to the public, in accordance with the law,” Jacobs said.

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