Schools in Eastern Cape need R52bn

Siseko Junior Secondary School does not have a single classroom built by government. The school has only six classrooms, which means some grades have to be combined. Grades 1 and 4 are combined in a class with Grade 1 pupils, who sit on their knees and use chairs as desks because of a lack of furniture. Grade 4 pupils sit on broken chairs and at broken desks. Grades 5 and 6 are also combined. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana/City Press
Siseko Junior Secondary School does not have a single classroom built by government. The school has only six classrooms, which means some grades have to be combined. Grades 1 and 4 are combined in a class with Grade 1 pupils, who sit on their knees and use chairs as desks because of a lack of furniture. Grade 4 pupils sit on broken chairs and at broken desks. Grades 5 and 6 are also combined. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana/City Press

Lobby group Equal Education has released a damning report on the inadequate infrastructure at some schools in the Eastern Cape, which highlights the basic education department’s failure to meet government’s own norms and standards.

The department had undertaken to ensure that, by the end of November last year, all schools would have access to some form of power supply, water and sanitation.

It also promised to construct new buildings at all schools that had been built using materials such as mud, metal, asbestos and wood.

The department cites underfunding for its failure to meet the deadline.

Tsepo Pefole, the director of infrastructure delivery at the Eastern Cape department of education, said the province had an infrastructure backlog worth R52 billion and it needed at least R6 billion a year for the next 17 years to address the school infrastructure issue in the province.

However, the department has only been given R1.5 billion despite returning to the Treasury R500 million last year for failing to spend.

On Thursday, thousands of pupils marched from King William’s Town to the provincial education department’s headquarters in Zwelitsha township to demand that their schools be fixed.

Equal Education’s report has found that at least 17 of the 60 schools it visited in the past six months constituted “an outright violation of the law”.

This did not just represent individual cases of the state failing to provide for pupils, but rather indicated that there were deep, systemic failures in the education department.

The lobby group’s report, titled Planning to Fail, was released at the Steve Biko Centre in Ginsberg, King William’s Town, this week after an investigation into the state of school infrastructure in November.

Provincial Education MEC Mandla Makupula and his management team snubbed the event.

The report states that 17 schools have no access to water, electricity or sanitation.

  • Thirteen schools were made almost entirely of mud and zinc shacks, and some do not appear on the list for infrastructure upgrades.
  • Of the 60 schools visited, 46 had at least one inappropriate building structure.
  • An overwhelming 42 schools had access to water only if they harvested rainwater.
  • While all schools had some form of sanitation, five were found to have no working toilets, and only 15 had flush toilets.

Luzuko Sidimba, head of Equal Education in the province, said the organisation would be taking Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to court in a bid to ensure accountability, and to close loopholes in the norms and standards as they are currently worded.

“On May 19 last year, we submitted our papers to the Eastern Cape High Court. We are hoping to get a court date in June or July,” Sidimba said.

Pefole said R2.5 billion had been made available by the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative for infrastructure development. But the organisation had experienced problems in the past financial year that constrained delivery.

“We do not have an excuse. We are working ... the department is grossly underfunded, while service providers used it as a cash cow. Consultants and constructors are using us as a cash cow. As a result, our cost for building a school is very high. It’s a countrywide phenomenon,” he said.

Pefole said the department was trying to bring down the cost of building a school so it could achieve more with fewer resources.

He complained that many properly built schools had turned into white elephants because scores of pupils had left them due to the migration of their parents. Some problems that forced parents to take their children to other schools include a lack of leadership in schools, and “useless” or ineffective principals.

“You find that, in December, the school might have been big and successful, but in January, there are no pupils,” Pefole said.

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