North West Premier Job Mokgoro has revealed that 38 students who were taking part in an artisan development programme at Denel Training Academy had been left in the lurch since January because his office failed to pay for their studies.
Mokgoro disclosed the “extremely sad matter of serious concern” during a virtual portfolio committee meeting on Tuesday.
“Denel withdrew because we have not paid it since 2019. We last paid in 2018,” he said.
In a presentation to the North West provincial legislature’s portfolio committee on the office of the premier, Mokgoro’s office explained that the students’ studies and their R5 000 monthly stipend were suspended after the academy’s “withdrawal from the partnership in January 2020”.
While administrators in his office made some commitments to the committee that plans were afoot to remedy the situation, Mokgoro said the situation could have been avoided.
He did not place blame on anyone directly, but made it clear that he was not happy that the students found themselves out of school, something which executives in his office had omitted in their report presentation to the committee.
“We should have removed children from Denel much earlier and placed them with alternative institutions. They are now languishing in a state of despair, unsure of their future … This is a depressing matter,” he said.
Mokgoro disclosed that R12 million had already been spent on the programme.
No reasons were heard on why the office of the premier failed to pay Denel, leading to the students’ exclusion from the academy.
The students, who were sponsored by the office of the premier, started their studies and training on aircraft mechanics, electrical mechanics, fitting and turning, as well as welding at Denel in January 2018.
They were placed with different companies to do their practical work last year, until they were sent packing in January.
The portfolio committee called Mokgoro’s office to explain the situation after the students raised their frustrations with the media.
The students complained that, among other drawbacks, they were not able to get the special Covid-19 coronavirus social relief distress grant of R350 because records from the SA Social Security Agency showed that they were still beneficiaries of a bursary and monthly stipend.
Committee members were not impressed at how Mokgoro’s office handled the matter. One committee member, Mmoloki Cwaile, accused administrators of “destroying the future of our children”.
Another member, Freddy Sonakile, called for disciplinary action against those responsible for the non-payment.
“We must know who failed in their duties and who failed to effect the payment. We can’t have people who place the lives of our youth in such detriment,” he said.
After the meeting, committee chairperson Aaron Motswana aired his committee’s feelings on the matter.
“The committee harshly condemned the department on how the matter has been handled and rebuked the premier’s office, [which is] being casual about the plight of the poor and impoverished students.
“The committee further refuses to accept the mute excuses advanced by the administration in trying to explain their incompetence and distasteful dereliction of duties,” he said.
The committee had on Tuesday given Mokgoro’s office 72 hours to reinstate the R5 000 monthly stipend and get the students back in class.