- The Eastern Cape education department is battling to recover 55 000 Samsung smart tablets it issued to 2020 matriculants.
- The department contracted Sizwe Africa IT Solutions to supply the tablets over a three-year period at a cost of R538m.
- In October, the Bhisho High Court found irregularities in the contract and the deal was halted.
The Eastern Cape education department is battling to recover 55 000 Samsung tablets issued to some matriculants who formed part of the Class of 2020, after it failed to collect the devices before they left school.
Service providers have since disabled the tablets. Even though schools were reminded thrice to collect the tablets from the matric pupils, there are no records to show how many, if any at all, of the tablets were returned.
Eastern Cape Education MEC Fundile Gade revealed this in a response to written parliamentary questions from DA MPL Yusuff Cassim. Cassim is on the education portfolio committee in the Eastern Cape legislature.
The DA in the province has described the debacle as a "big mess".
The department, it emerged, contracted Sizwe Africa IT Solutions to supply the tablets to the pupils over a three-year period at a cost of R538 million. But, in October, the Eastern Cape High Court in Bhisho found that there were irregularities in the three-year lease agreement and the deal was interdicted. The Special Investigating Unit is probing the contract.
In his response, which News24 has seen, Gade conceded that the department had no knowledge of tablets that pupils had to return to schools.
Cassim said the tablets should have been retrieved from pupils in October last year, following the court interdict, but said that the department had created a mess.
Gade explained that the department didn't recall the tablets immediately after the court interdict was granted because it wanted to avoid creating a mess for pupils while they were preparing for exams.
According to Cassim, the department is now threatening pupils who missed the mid-April cut-off date, with criminal procedures.
"Instead of issuing the class of 2020 matric certificates, the department is hell-bent on giving them criminal records over tablets that never actually worked in the first place," Cassim said.
Since May 2020, the DA has consistently contended that the procurement was illegal.
The party accused the department of insisting on handpicking the supplier, the "politically connected" Sizwe Africa IT Group.
But Sizwe IT Solutions maintained that the contract was above board. Sizwe spokesperson Bongi Radebe told News24 in May: "Sizwe Africa IT Group [Sizwe] strongly refutes any allegations as to any improper conduct in the awarding of what is a legitimate contract to the company."
The DA alleged that Sizwe Africa IT Group was a subsidiary of a company owned by Dr Iqbal Survé, AYO Technologies.
In a statement, Survé denied this when News24 contacted him last year. According to the statement, he is not a direct shareholder of AYO Technologies, is not a member of the board and holds no position within the company.
The department of education's alleged refusal to follow the correct procurement processes through the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), as is required by law, saw the department being dragged before the High Court and an urgent interdict being issued that halted the contract until a full review could be done.
"Under an honest, capable government, this situation would not have arisen as the tablets would have been sourced through an open tender, following the prescribed legislative requirements, to ensure the best possible deal for taxpayers and learners alike," Cassim said.
He added that for the same amount of money, the department could have purchased three times the amount of tablets and given those to pupils to keep.
Education department spokesperson Vuyiseka Mboxela did not immediately respond to News24's questions. Her response will be added once received.