Shoddy sanitisers supplied to school where 200 tested positive for Covid-19

A person uses hand sanitizer.
A person uses hand sanitizer.
Yawar Nazir/Getty Images
  • Eastern Cape Education MEC Fundile Gade has ordered legal action against a supplier of sanitisers. 
  • Tests on samples of a sanitiser used at Makaula Secondary School, where 204 tested positive for Covid-19, contained low levels of alcohol.
  • Nine other schools in the virus-hit Alfred Nzo District used sanitisers with alcohol levels between 4.1%-57.6%, lower than the required 70%.

Legal action has been ordered against a company that supplied sanitisers to Makaula Senior Secondary School - where 204 pupils and staff tested positive for Covid-19 - for "defrauding" the education department.

This is after a report in possession of the Eastern Cape Department of Health revealed that sanitisers used at the 1 000-bed boarding school, and nine other schools in the district, was sub-standard and contained very low volumes of alcohol.

To kill germs, levels of alcohol in a bottle of sanitiser must be at least 70%. The test, conducted by Rhodes University pharmaceutics professor Roderick Walker, has shown that samples of sanitiser supplied to Makaula only contained 57.6% alcohol, Timeslive reported.

READ | Be warned: Getting caught without a mask can get you a criminal record

Walker had conducted tests on sanitisers supplied to 10 schools in the Alfred Nzo District, with results showing alcohol contents ranged from 4.1% to 57.6%.

The schools included Jolobe Junior Secondary School (4.1%); Nkulisa Primary School (31.9%); Mbodleni Senior Secondary (33.1%); and St George's Senior Secondary (34.2%).

In the report about the results, Walker said the samples he tested were not in the original containers, therefore he could not tell whether they were tampered with at the schools. 

'Utterly shameful and unethical'

In a message addressed to education department's superintendent general Themba Kojana, seen by News24, Education MEC Fundile Gade accused the supplier of defrauding the department.

The message reads as follows:

"SG good morning. Having noted the damage caused by this service provider who defrauded the department on PPEs in Mt Frere I propose as follows. 1. That the payment of any kind mustn't be made to this company. 2. The legal team must file papers for him to answer before the courts of law about this criminality. 3. The communication team must urgently be briefed and issue a strong worded statement with a warning even to others in future. That statement must be out today to quell the situation and manage the anger of the people over this matter. 

Regards Gade FD."

Gade confirmed that the department was planning to launch legal action against the supplier.

"What this service provider has done is utterly shameful and unethical. Their carelessness and shoddy workmanship has effectively put the lives of children and teachers in danger.

'Shock and disgust'

"We are currently consulting with our legal team and we will make sure that the law takes its course. Furthermore, we will write to the provincial treasury to ask that they are immediately blacklisted from doing business with government ever again," said Gade.

Education department spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said the Rhodes University investigation into the sanitisers was commissioned by the department following complaints from various schools about the quality of the products.

ALSO READ | EC education dept denies over 200 Covid-19-positive pupils, staff were left stranded outside hotel

Pulumani said the department had learnt of the incident with "shock and disgust", adding that payment to the service provider had been blocked with immediate effect.

The department released names of other schools affected by the incident. They are: Lilitha Senior Primary School, Nqhontosi Senior Primary School, Cwalinkungu Primary School, Mbodleni Senior Secondary School and St Georges Senior Secondary School.

Rhodes University's spokesperson Velisile Bukula told News24 that: "Kindly be advised that Prof Walker is not prepared to talk to the media about this project. Kindly contact the provincial department of health for assistance in this regard."

The institution's pharmacy department also produces sanitiser for the department of health, Manana revealed.

Last month, Makaula came under the spotlight when 204 people - including pupils and hostel employees - tested positive. The National Association of School Governing Bodies viewed the incident as the final straw, and called for schools to be closed.

Between 8 and 26 June, more than 550 pupils, teachers and support tested positive for Covid-19 in the Eastern Cape, while 154 provincial schools were temporarily closed.

At the time, the department revealed that 270 of the infected were pupils, 271 teachers, while 16 were non-teaching staff.

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