'It's the unions wagging the dog here' - Western Cape opposed to school closures, says Winde

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Western Cape Premier Alan Winde
Western Cape Premier Alan Winde
PHOTO: Malherbe Nienaber/Netwerk24
  • Western Cape Premier Alan Winde says it's "safer at schools than not", in his experience.
  • He claims there's no science or data used to advise whether schools should be open or closed.
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that public schools would "take a break" from 27 July until 24 August.

The Western Cape government was considering its legal options to oppose the closure of schools for four weeks, as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Premier Alan Winde said on Friday.

Winde was speaking during a Friday "digicon" on the province's special adjustments budget.

"The Western Cape specifically in the consultations… opposed the closing of schools," he said.

"In my own experience, being on the ground specifically in highly vulnerable, high density areas where our hotspots were showing the numbers, I am convinced it's safer at schools than not."

He claimed that there was no science or data used to advise whether schools should be open or closed.

"And you could see the absence in this process. It's the unions wagging the dog here."

He said what the province could do about the closure "legally, or if we have any opportunity", was currently being investigated.

On Thursday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that public schools would "take a break" from 27 July until 24 August, but that Grade 12 pupils would remain at home for one week and return on 3 August.

Grade 7s would return on 10 August.

This, after unions argued that there was no effective teaching and learning at schools and that a break to curb the rate of Covid-19 transmission was necessary.

Following a week in which Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga held several meetings with MECs, heads of department, union representatives, school governing body associations and experts, Cabinet finally made a decision on the closure.

'Starvation is a big thing'

The national school nutrition programme would also continue operating during the break.

Winde called this "interesting", saying schools would still "actually stay open" to run these programmes which is "critical, specifically right now".

"So many months into this pandemic, with the real slowdown in the economy, food security is a massive issue. It links directly with our ability to get food efficiently to hotspot areas where starvation is a big thing among our young people and scholars."

The Western Cape currently accounts for 88 928 of the 408 052 confirmed coronavirus cases countrywide, or 21.8%.

It is second behind Gauteng, which is home to 148 854 infected people, or 36.5%.

Emergency funds

Winde said funding the province's Covid-19 response – which provincial government had estimated to cost in excess of R5 billion – had become a "very big issue" as the money was not coming from the national fiscus.

"We had to find funding within our own budget. This has massive implications for other service delivery issues."

Western Cape Finance and Economic Opportunities MEC David Maynier, on Thursday in his Special Adjustment Budget address in the provincial legislature, said R3.05 billion had been allocated for the immediate health, humanitarian response and economic response to the pandemic.

  • R1.8 billion would go to the provincial health department for personal protective equipment, temporary field hospitals, testing and screening, and additional bed capacity;
  • R400 million for the provincial transport and public works department for the hiring of venues and the purchase of services for quarantine and isolation facilities;
  • R310 million to the provincial education department for personal protective equipment, and the sanitisation of schools;
  • R84 million for humanitarian relief in the form of food and feeding schemes;
  • R27 million to the Department of Local Government for the coordination and implementation of the response to the pandemic in hotspots;
  • R14 million to the provincial economic development and tourism department to support small businesses, workplace safety, and screening passengers at the George Airport; and
  • R12 million to the provincial social development department for personal protective equipment and operational support to old age homes and early childhood development centres across the province.

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