The Select Committee heard submissions on the Africa Skills FET College Petition (Petition requesting the intervention of the NCOP on the alleged ill-treatment of students, corruption and racism by Africa Skills College in George, Western Cape Province). Submissions were made by the petitioners, Africa Skills College Management, the Department of Higher Education, and the South African Police Services.
Mr Langa and Mr Ncamile made submissions indicating issues of corruption, ill treatment of students and racism at Africa Skills College.
Ms Harmse, Managing Director, made Submissions on behalf of Africa Skills College Management responded on issues corruption, ill treatment of the learners and racism claimed in the petition.
On the allegation of corruption, different sponsors had different payment structures and deliverables, therefore the College only received money provided it deliver evidence as per contract.
On ill treatment, that was termination of learners’ contract and allowances that were not paid, the following processes and actions have been implemented by the College: learner enquiry process updated, student support system strengthened, formation of student representative committee, communication with learners more often and learner induction updated and learners split with induction per funder/Skills Education Training Authorities to ensure that any confusion was eliminated.
On racism, the College complied with all the legal requirements. No formal complaint had been lodged on racism and without facts it was difficult to proof any of these allegations.
The Department of Higher Education and the South African Police Services also made submissions to the Committee.
The hearing on the Africa Skills FET College Petition (Petition requesting the intervention of the NCOP on the alleged ill-treatment of students, corruption and racism by Africa Skills College in Western Cape Province) could not be finalised because of time constraints.
The Chairperson said the hearings were on the Africa Skills FET College Petition (Petition requesting the intervention of the NCOP on the alleged ill-treatment of students, corruption and racism by Africa Skills College in George, Western Cape Province.
The Chairperson informed the petitioners that the procedure of a hearing was that in terms of the Constitution all those making submissions were deemed to be speaking under oath and any misrepresentation of facts to Parliament would lead to prosecution under law, particularly if done so deliberately.
Submission from Mr Langa and Mr Ncamile on behalf of Africa Skills College Petition
Mr Langa Langa, an ANC Ward Councillor and Community Activist, said he had received a complaint from Mr Luvuyo Ncamile one of Africa skills students that reported on the following:
Poor Education System
There was lack of quality education that resulted in poor performance by students. There was lack of knowledge from the facilitators because they were not qualified, which led to poor performance from students. There was also lack of material and equipment because one would find students using one electrical tool in the work shop. There was lack of support because nothing was done about the poor performance of students and 80% of students failed each and every semester, but they continued with business as usual. There was no proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for safety implementation. No monitoring of the learners at the host employer for practicals as in some cases one would find students being placed to a company contractor that did not even implement the safety rules on site and working area. There was no training plan that rotated students while at host employer to get enough experience in practical training relating to the goal of becoming a skilled artisan and being trade test ready, which result in students not doing the training relevant to their trade.
Africa Skills College management negotiated with different companies to place students where Africa Skills College was being paid for students working there, for example SANParks and other host employers. The College deducted from students allowances unfairly, for example a forced unpaid leave, contract being extended without the third party knowing. Approval of important information without being evaluated, relating to progress reports, issuing two different documents for the same semester, making students competent for training they had not received.
Falsifying signatures of students on contracts that included NSF, CHIETA, CETA and SASSETA. For example, the contract of Mr Kweleta and Jermaine Van Rooyen and also training information in the progress report of students saying that they were at the host, which they never had been at. According to document 13 that they were in possession of, students staying at the hostel of Africa Skills Village while those students were private students who had never stayed at the hostel. There were contracts of funding that was not revealed by Africa Skills Village to the student. They were told different stories when they asked to see the original funding contract that stated the amount of student allowance they were supposed to receive. Students were being told by the College that the course they were doing was an international qualification while it was not, it was not even an accredited one.
At the college whites in the same apprenticeship had special treatment. There was also nepotism in the College because top management of staff was family and there was no racial balance, for example Ms Harmse and Mr Harmse were husband and wife, Ronely Meyer was the daughter of Ron Meyer who was a facilitator for building drawings, Mark Pepler, a facilitator for carpentry, was the father of Arnie, who was an administrator at the college. Whites were placed at host employers of their choice, while blacks and coloureds did not have a choice, and host employer’s allocation paper was being signed for students relating to the host employer. Facilitators expressed their knowledge in Afrikaans for long periods while some students did not understand Afrikaans. Management of the College would intimidate and threaten a student when they considered he/she was problematic to their way of operating.
Submission by Africa Skills College Management
Mrs Elsie Harmse, Managing Director: Africa Skills College said her presentation will be in three stages, firstly, on the issue of corruption, secondly, on the ill-treatment of the learners, and thirdly, on racism.
Firstly, the College admitted and apologised that indeed there was learner dissatisfaction in March 2015.
The College had learned a lot from this experience and used this experience to grow as people and as a company. The following processes and actions were implemented by Africa Skills during and after the protest:
1. Learner Enquiry process updated
2. Student Support system strengthened
3. Student Representative committee
4. Communication with learners more often
5. Learner Induction updated and learners split with induction per funder/SETA to ensure that any confusion was eliminated.
On the allegation of corruption, the College believed it was about misunderstanding that different sponsors had different payment structures and deliverables. The stipend amount between the Skills Education Training Authorities (SETA) varied from R1500 to R2500. Because the SETA did not always pay them on time, the learners thought that the College took their money. In some contracts the learner stipend amount needed to be increased as per the specific SETA contract. As a private provider their funding did not work in the same way as a public Technical and Vocational Training (TVET) College.
The College only received their money when they delivered the evidence as per the contract with the funder. The College did not get the money for a full year ahead, but in tranches – therefore the SETA or funder had the right to immediately stop the funding. The stipends were also paid directly to the student and they must submit the pay slip as well as proof of payment to the SETA before they wouldl release the next tranche. Each funder/SETA also monitors/audits Africa Skills on their contract deliverables on regular intervals throughout the funding period. The SETA’s had a strict administrative system for the monitoring and auditing of contracts that they as Training Provider need to report on.
The learners’ dissatisfaction expression started on 6 March 2015 – after the late payment of the SASSETA stipends – when they locked the training centre’s gate preventing any learners or staff members to enter the premises. On 9 March the learners protested outside the training centre and again no one was allowed into the training centre. – Photos tyres were burnt and the street was blocked off, police intervened but police were also intimidated. The police requested the aggrieved learners to follow them to the Thembalethu Police station where the matter could be discussed in a more civilised manner. Part of the management team was also escorted to the police station. Learners refused to speak to management and Major Blaauw acted as the intermediary between the learners in their meeting and ASM meeting in a different office. At 13:00, 15 learner representatives and a community member met with management where they as management tried to understand what the reasons for their grievances were and to discuss possible solutions.
The points raised included: the terminations of learners, racism, and allowances that were not paid. Management agreed that they would attend to the grievances as a priority and asked that the learners go back to class because they needed to prepare for the exams. The learners refused to do that and demanded that management first solve their grievances. Management requested that they select learners to represent their view so that they could start with discussions. Artisan training was their main training stream, and therefore they decided that all the learners must go back to their host employers while they tied to solve the grievances as effectively as they could. Management arranged a bus to transport the students back to their host employers. The protesting learners blocked the road and did not allow the bus to pick up the learners. 24 learners successfully escaped through the field next to the training centre to get the bus on the N2 to go back. All these learners where provided with placement letters. Some of the learners refused to get in the bus and stayed behind in the hostel illegally. During this time a wing of the hostel was also destroyed by fire, but the findings of that fire were inconclusive.
On 17 March the learners had a march where they handed over their petition (including supporting documentation). They had chosen learners to represent them and speak on their behalf to management.
During the due process of resolution finding, several learners still remained aggrieved and volatile at which point Africa Skills Management (ASM) had no other option but to seek legal advice and obtain an interim court order, the reason for this was to protect the other learners that wanted to attend class and continue with their education as well as to protect their personnel. The court order was awarded on 21 August 2015. (There were incidents of intimidation and threats towards fellow learners and personnel.)
Summary of the solutions from the meeting:
1. All learners that were allegedly unfairly terminated were contacted in order to establish whether these learners felt that they were treated unfairly and wished to be re-instated in the apprenticeship. All terminated learners evidence was audited by an independent consultant to verify that correct procedures and processes were followed according to SETA contracts and labour law.
2. Meetings were arranged with all the relevant funders to address the learners on their funding to clarify any queries
3. Africa Skills Management had one on one sessions with all personnel to discuss alleged racism and discrimination. ASM concluded that all personnel buy into the vision and mission of Human Capital Development and changing people’s lives.
4. Extra classes were agreed on to prepare the learners for the national exams (attendance registers enclosed)
5. Learners where encouraged to put their individual grievances in writing in order for management to handle each learners’ grievance with individual attention and care.
6. Learners refused to sign attendance registers (they stated that this would mean that they acknowledge that all was resolved). ASM agreed that learners may for this period only tick the register to prove attendance
ASM also requested all the stakeholders to visit them to audit and see if management had done something wrong and to speak to the learners that they sponsored to assist in the resolution of the grievances.
The company had existed for ten years, and as a training provider complied with all the legal requirements. There was no formal complaint lodged on racism that they could handle or solve but Africa Skills Private Training Provider’s Mission was to change people’s lives, and without facts it was difficult to prove any of these allegations.
Submission by the Department of Higher Education (DHET)
Mr Maliviwe Lumka, Chief Director: DHET said his role was to do oversight on the SETAs. SETAs were a juristic person, they were confined to various service providers and they registered learnerships, which was what was enshrined in the Skills Development Act.
A petition was brought to their attention sometime in July last year. The Department mandated himself and Dr Buthelezi to visit Africa Skills College to establish the seriousness of the allegations mentioned in the petition. On 29 August 2015, he and Dr Buthelezi went to the College and presented the petition to the management of the college. They presented the allegations which included the issues of corruption and racism. On that day they met with Ms Harmse and tried to establish the corruption levelled against Mr Harmse who at the time it was alleged that he was working at Southgate College. It transpired that Mr Harmse had resigned from the Southgate College to join the Africa Skills College, of which on his (Mr Lumka’s) suspicion it sounded as if the Africa Skills College was a family business.
Mr Lumka said that to hear both sides of the story they requested to see the students. But unfortunately they were told that on that day the students were out to their host employers, and only 5 students were available for them to interview. They asked the students about this issue of racism and the issue of the stipend which was a burning issue at the time. The students responded by indicating that yes there was an issue of the stipend but it had since been resolved. With the issue of racism, they asked the management what their employment plan was because their finding was that it was inevitable that there was a communication breakdown if management was white and there was no form of representation. They could not conclude that they had the gist of the allegations because the majority of the students were not there.
Ms Jennifer Irish-Qhobosheane, Administrator: SASSETA said the issue of the SASSETA was placed under administration at the end of April 2015. One of the issues found when the body was placed under administration was that there were huge delays in the payment of monies to learners. It was not just in the Western Cape but throughout the country. The situation was so bad that she gave her personal number to learners so that they could contact her directly with their complaints. It was therefore correct that the students had problems with their stipends and as an administrator she had to intervene to correct the problem and that situation with the learners was resolved.
Ms Irish-Qhobosheane said SASSETA had performance service agreements with all their service providers and also had agreements in place with their learners as well. The learners were called upfront and told if they failed to attend any classes without a valid reason money would be deducted from their stipends. They only paid service provider’s money for the learner they trained that particular month. Service providers must show proof of payment to the bank account of the learner before SASSETA released the payment to the service provider. Their involvement with Africa Skills Management started in 2014 and they supported 45 learners in that college.
Submission by the South African Police Services (SAPS)
Major General Khosi Senthumule, Head Organised Crime: SAPS said that in their records they did not have any case that had been opened in terms of fraud and corruption. However, they had 6 cases that had been opened that spoke to the two cases from the students, two from management of the college, and two from SAPS.
Major General Patrick Mbotho, Crime Detectio, SAPS, said that as already stated they had six cases and all six of them had not been mentioned in the submissions from both parties. In terms of the two cases from the students one of them related to an accident where a student was bumped by a motor vehicle. The Other one is from the driver of the motor vehicle complaining that the student caused damage to the vehicle. The other two cases were for the unlawful protest march of which the police were the complainants in this regard. The other case was for intimidation which was lodged by management.
The Chairperson said that they were running out of time and therefore proceedings would have to be postponed for their next meeting. Information will be communicated with all the affected parties in order to resolve this impasse.
The meeting was adjourned.
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