Allegations that the KZN Department of Education supplied schools with inferior quality face masks have led to Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu calling for a quality audit.
The Education Department delivered its R57 billion budget for 2020/2021 on Thursday via a virtual broadcast amid growing concern at the sub-standard quality of masks delivered to some schools.
Mshengu expressed his shock and said an audit of the masks’ quality will be conducted. “We have since taken the position that all service providers will be paid once an audit on the quality of PPE and other essentials has been concluded and that confirmation is received that all materials are according to the specifications and standards as prescribed by the Department of Health,” Mshengu said.
He said safety will not be compromised. “Any allegation pertaining to the quality of PPE will be thoroughly investigated.”
Mshengu said the department was working to ensure that all schools were prepared to open for pupils in Grade 7 and 12, by June 8.
The DA’s KZN spokesperson on education, Dr Imran Keeka, said Mshengu’s reaction was “an admission that there was no quality control” during the vetting of suppliers.
“The KZN education portfolio committee members were told by the DoE’s head of department that all suppliers were vetted! Why the sudden need for an audit then? Why was stock not verified when received? What kind of vetting was done? Does the department have a procedure in place to verify the quality of stock? This is very, very fishy!” said Keeka.
He said Mshengu should be “shocked”, as he claimed to be.
“Given the recent ‘disappearance’ of PPE and inflated procurement prices for PPE, this should shock him and give him sleepless nights,” said Keeka.
He added cloth masks, available for as little as R10 each, were purchased by the department for R25 each; infrared thermometers, available at between R800 and R1 000 on the open market, were purchased at a cost of more than R2 500 each. Hand sanitiser, available at wholesale prices ranging from R45 to R65 per litre, was purchased by the department at R183 per litre, 16-litre spray bottles, normally available at a cost of around R400, were purchased for R1 800 each — equating to a mark-up of more than 400%.
Mshengu, in delivering his budget, said the Covid-19 pandemic had wreaked havoc in the education sector, conceding that the time lost for teaching and learning will have a negative impact on learners.
“Even in the days of apartheid, not even during the most perilous and difficult days of the state of emergency did we see the whole country shutting down all public and private schools for more than a month,” said Mshengu.
He said the lockdown exposed the vast difference in how poor, rural and ill-equipped schools and communities were disadvantaged “in a manner never seen before”.
“While schools are closed, children from affluent families attending well-resourced schools continued with lessons through virtual platforms and privately arranged sessions. They continued to do work, submit and receive feedback.
“Regrettably, the same cannot be said with regard to the majority of children in rural and township areas because of poor socio-economic conditions.
“For these children, the closure of schools means another battle for survival; these are children who come from families where living literally means avoiding death.
“If we are to achieve the objective of equalising education, we must uplift the standard and quality of education in historically disadvantaged areas. We need to modernise the method of teaching and learning in those areas,” said Mshengu.