Eastern Cape Premier Masualle’s hopes and regrets

Premier Phumulo Masualle has admitted that the province of the Eastern Cape has a long way to go in addressing its many challenges, including infrastructure backlog at schools. In an interview with City Press, Masualle, who is probably serving his last few months as premier of the province, said he was already working on an exit report that highlights the work done by his administration in the their five years in office.

Masualle said the story of Lumka Mketwa (5), who died in a pit latrine in March this year, was one of the saddest moments in his term of office. Lumka, a Grade R learner at Luna Junior Primary School in Bizana, fell into the latrine at her school and her body was only discovered at the bottom of the toilet the next day after a frantic search by her parents and the community.

“I must concede and say it, that Lumka’s situation was indeed a very sad development that we had to experience ... such instances have really brought to the fore the question of the exposure that some of our learners find themselves in,” Masualle said.

He explained that with the involvement of various players in the province, including the private sector and the mining industry, there has been a drive to ensure that infrastructure is improved.

This was after the MTN SA Foundation, in partnership with Masualle’s office, built 24 flushable toilets, including those specifically designed for smaller-bodied learners, at a cost of R7m and donated them to Luna school to honour Lumka’s memory. Masualle said the new toilet facilities should be a model followed in other schools.

Since taking over as premier in 2014, from Noxolo Kiviet, he has presided over the province with the worst matric performance in the country. On starting his work as premier, he instructed his MEC of education, Mandla Makupula, and the education management to target a pass rate of at least 70%.

But that 70% benchmark remains elusive to this day. In 2013 the province’s matric pass rate had been 64.9%. In June 2014 he was sworn in as premier, and a few months later the province’s pass rate was at 65.4%. Then, by end of 2015, when he had been in office for more than a year, matric results dropped to a 56.8% pass rate, followed by 59.3% in 2016 and 65% in 2017.

“We had targeted to do 70%. I was one of those who demanded it. But we were impacted on by this phenomenon of progressed learners. When it was introduced, it tended to negatively influence the outcomes when that cohort of progressed learners reached grade 12. We were in a similar position as other provinces, but the number of learners was larger here.

“But we were also hit by other matters. For instance, we had 23 districts and had to reduce them to 12. We had to look into a number of things that impacted on the schooling environment and the performance of learners, and had to institute a number of interventions which included a three-year education transformation plan which is in its last year [2018] now.”

He said that since these interventions they have begun to see an improvement.

On corruption and mismanagement in municipalities, for which the province was mentioned in a report by Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu to be leading with a staggering R13.5bn in irregular and wasteful expenditure, Masualle said this was not a good picture for a poor province yearning for resources and service delivery.

“I think this does not reflect well. We shouldn’t be having anything like that. I have taken the trouble though, to dig deeper and understand why is it like this. I started with the provincial departments. There would be an indication that we have got something in the order of R5bn or so of irregular expenditure and I discovered that a portion of this is an accumulated amount which comes from previous years, and so is the case with irregular expenditure in municipalities.”

Masualle said he now had a few months left on the job and believed he had done what he could and that it would be up to the next administration to take the province forward.

“We are not there yet and I don’t think in the near future we are going to be there. It has not as yet translated into everyone all the time having access to clean drinking water and everyone having proper infrastructure by way of roads,” he said.

He cited the improvement of road infrastructure, rural development and healthcare in rural hospitals as some of the highlights of his administration. He said the major automotive investments in the province by big companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Baic Group and Volkswagen are some of the achievements close to his heart.

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