The Committee received a petition from a Griqua community in the Northern Cape, which had been submitted to the Department of Basic Education (DBE), requesting that a new school be built on the Gong-Gong farm. A community representative highlighted the plight of the people of Gong-Gong, and said there had been no sort of development on the farm whatsoever. A new school would help preserve the culture of the people of Gong-Gong, as well as help to uplift the community.
The Northern Cape Department of Education told the Committee that it would not be feasible to build a school on the farm. The Department could not afford to build the school, and the number of school-going children in Gong-Gong did not meet the minimum threshold for a school to be built. Although the DBE was sympathetic to the plight of the community, making an exception would create a dangerous precedent.
The Committee was also moved by the Gong-Gong community’s presentation, and concluded that the problem would require the collaboration of various departments in order to be resolved.
The DBE presented on their preparation for 2020 school readiness, which required looking at six elements to ensure that the sector was ready to start the following school yea:
- Learner admissions;
- Teacher provisioning;
- Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM);
- School furniture;
- Learner transport; and
- School nutrition.
While the Department was generally satisfied with its preparations, it had to deal with a number of challenges. These included 274 000 unplaced learners for Grade 1s across the country, which was mainly because parents usually applied to more than one school and did not cancel their applications at other schools once they had been accepted by a certain school; the migration of learners to different provinces, which made planning for requirements difficult; vandalism during the holidays which resulted in the destruction of school infrastructure; a backlog of maintenance at schools which had fallen into disrepair; and parents “borrowing” school furniture for events and not returning it.
Members asked how the Department was dealing with the influx of foreign migrants’ children into the education system; what it was doing to clamp down on bogus schools which were springing up to meet the demand; how it was planning to address the problem of water shortages at schools situated in drought-prone provinces; and if it had formalised the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) textbook, or if they were still in the pilot phase.
The Chairperson said the Committee had received a petition from the Griqua community which was about land, land rights, infrastructure, water and sanitation. The relevance of the petition was that the Griqua people were requesting a school for their community. The Committee had received a response to the petition, but before discussing the response she wanted a representative from the Griqua community to speak on the issue.
Petition: Griqua People of Gong-Gong
Mr H Drift, a representative of the Griqua community, said they were thankful to the Committee for the reception and attention that the Committee had given to the plight of the Griqua people. They had been forced to register as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in order to have a legal entity to petition Parliament and address Members. They had decided to go to this extent because the Griqua people on the farm were real people who were facing real problems. In their experience of dealing with government, the Griqua people had not been given respect and dignity.
The Griqua people were asking the government for partnership in the development of the Gong-Gong farm, and from their side, the people of Gong-Gong had been doing all they could to help develop the community. The injustices suffered by the people of Gong-Gong went as far back as 1967, when the Griqua people were removed from the Gong-Gong farm. He acknowledged that the problems were complex, and because of this he expressed his desire for sustained engagement between the people of Gong-Gong and the government.
Mr Drift told the Committee that since the 1700s, the state had never built a school or been involved in any development projects on the Gong-Gong farm. Development on the farm had been completely neglected by the government, and as a result there were no jobs or any form of physical development, and many of the adults in Gong-Gong were dependent on alcohol. If the government could help the community to develop the farm, this would decrease the people’s dependence on government. The Griqua people were also fighting to get land back which was bought under the apartheid government for the people of Gong-Gong, but now belonged to government.
While the community had been conducting research for their submission to the Department of Education, they had discovered that out of the total 190 school-going children, only 78 received transportation to their school, and of the other 112 children, some used the transport services illegally. However, the number of these children was unknown. A school in one of the neighbouring communities had 160 learners but Gong-Gong, which had 190 children, did not have its own school.
Mr Drift highlighted the different ways in which a school in Gong-Gong would improve and benefit the community. If the community had its own school:
- The community would be able to teach the culture of the Griqua people to the children and therefore be able to develop holistically as a community;
- Children on the farm would be able to participate in co-curricular programmes;
- Learner absenteeism would decrease;
- Many other community programmes could develop, with the school being the centre;
- The creation of a school in the Gong-Gong community would result in more jobs.
He told the Committee that the community of Gong-Gong had also been proactive in bettering the community by using its own money to build houses and churches, and this showed the commitment of the people. He asked that the government to meet the community half way.
Northern Cape Department of Education’s response
Mr Tshepo Pharasi, Head of Department (HoD): Northern Cape Department of Education, thanked Mr Drift for understanding the limitations of government, and said there were serious constraints in the province in terms of infrastructure. The province depended entirely on conditional grant for infrastructure, and did not enjoy any luxuries.
The Department’s work in the provinces was determined by the ratio of demand, as schools with fewer learners ended up costing the government scarce resources. Schools in the Northern Cape, were built when there was an increase in demand for schools due to population growth or urbanisation.
Ms Britz, Deputy Director: Northern Cape Department of Education, told the Committee that learner transport for Gong-Gong was covered by the government and according to the statistics, 78 learners from the Gong-Gong area were using the transport service. She said that micro-schools, such as that requested by Gong-Gong, were costly and those which already existed did so because it was a struggle to transport the learners of those areas to neighbouring communities. The Department usually required a minimum of 2 500 students in order to establish a school, and according to the statistics of 2011, there were only 1 000 members of the Gong-Gong community.
She then gave a breakdown of all the schools close to the Gong-Gong area which students could attend, and outlined all the plans for future infrastructure projects around the Gong-Gong farm. She said the Northern Cape Department of Education proposed that learners from Gong-Gong be sent to nearby schools, since the student population of the community did not meet the requirements to have a new school built in the area, and that they should use the learner transport which the government provides.
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) asked the representatives of the Department of Education to explain why they had chosen to use figures derived from 2011 statistics, and not something more recent. Had the Department taken into consideration the dangers that the children of Gong-Gong faced when trying to get to school, such as having to cross rivers, when they were considering this case? Had they maybe considered the time it took for children to get to school, and from that perspective made an exception for the community?
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) asked the Department to take note of the importance of cultural preservation to the people of Gong-Gong. The Committee needed to take into consideration the importance of redress in the case of Gong-Gong. The people of Gong-Gong were not asking the Department to do all the work for them, but were instead looking for collaboration. She also asked the Department why they had not used more recent statistics and said it seemed as though an integrated approach was needed to address the issue.
Ms N Shabalala (ANC) thanked Mr Drift for his passionate presentation, and told the Committee it seemed that the solution to the case of Gong-Gong lay in various departments working together to develop this community and address some of the issues that the community faced. The challenges faced by the community could be solved through an inclusive effort, and she suggested that maybe a joint committee meeting with various departments should be arranged to look at the issues of infrastructure development, water and sanitation and other matters.
Mr E Siwela (ANC) said he was looking at the issue from a constitutional point of view, and considering the rights of the people of Gong-Gong to basic services. He was very concerned about the discrepancy in the number learners provided by the Department versus the number which had been provided by Mr Drift. Communities could develop only through intervention and infrastructural development. Maybe the sending the children of Gong-Gong to a nearby school could be treated as a short-term solution while the government departments worked together to find a long-term solution to the community’s problems.
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) urged the Northern Cape Department of Basic Education to make an exception for the people of Gong-Gong. He asked how the provision of transport mitigated the problem of the river which children had to cross when going to school when it was overflowing. He agreed that the challenge of the Gong-Gong farm was multi-faceted and required the collaboration of different departments. He told the Department that education was a constitutional right, and the Committee needed to come up with a solution to this problem.
Ms C King (DA) told the representatives of Gong-Gong that she appreciated the fact that they were trying to preserve the culture of the community. It was important that the community first sorted out the issue of land ownership before they could consider building a school in Gong-Gong. She told the Department she understood that there had been budget cuts, but the community of Gong-Gong was willing to partner with the Department and bring its own funders on board. She suggested that the Committee go to Gong-Gong to conduct oversight and establish what the issues really were. She asked the Committee and the Department to consider that building a school in Gong-Gong would help to create unity and a sense of belonging among the community. She added that 120 primary school learners, from the 2011 statistics, seemed like a decent number for setting up a school, and perhaps the numbers had changed since then.
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) suggested that perhaps the DG should explain what the Department could do, since he had the knowledge about the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) grant. She also agreed with Members that the case of Gong-Gong required a multifaceted approach, and suggested that more departments should work together. Considering that the economy of the community was also not growing, the Committee needed to come with solutions for addressing such issues. This was not an isolated case, and the Committee needed to start looking into how the Department could start assisting these types of communities.
Ms N Adoons (ANC) expressed her sympathy for the community of Gong-Gong. She asked for clarity on some issues. She asked why the numbers presented by Gong-Gong and the Department had differed. The challenges of the community were far more than the issue of education. She commended the community of Gong-Gong for showing initiative in addressing the issues that they faced, and told the Committee that the correct statistics would be useful to help it establish which issues to prioritize in Gong-Gong. She asked the DG if there was anything his office could offer the community in order to give hope that their problems may be addressed in the future.
The Chairperson asked the Committee to be realistic when looking at the problems of Gong-Gong. The first issue where the community needed assistance was to resolve the land issue before addressing all the other infrastructural issues faced by the community. She also advised the representative of Gong-Gong that the first thing they need to concentrate on was how to attain land. She was not disagreeing with the suggestion of conducting oversight in Gong-Gong, but warned Members against making promises that the Committee would not be able to deliver on.
She asked the DG if he would like to comment on the issue of ASIDI, and emphasised that the Committee did feel sympathetic to the issues of Gong-Gong. She also asked Mr Drift to clarify if all the children in the in the area were all at school currently, considering the obstacles that they had to face when trying to get to school. The Chairperson said the 1:30 teacher-to-learner ratio was really unfair, especially for rural areas, considering that rural areas did not have the same population numbers as the urban areas.
The DG said he was very sympathetic to the issues of the Griqua community, as was the Northern Cape DBE. He explained that the numbers that the DBE had presented were from the 2011 community household census, because it had not been conducted since. Although exceptions could be made, it was important to really test whether certain cases were really exceptions, considering that people could challenge the Department in court on the basis that an exception was made in a particular case. He supported the suggestion of taking a broad multi-disciplinary approach. He responded to Ms Marchesi, saying that the ASIDI was a result of legislation that Parliament had developed itself, and it rested upon the government to change the conditions of ASIDI again.
Mr Drift referred to the question of land-ownership, and said the Gong-Gong people owned the land but the municipality was the custodian, which had made it difficult to develop on the land. The community had essentially become victims of a land grab by the state. Since the municipality was now the custodian of the land, the people of Gong-Gong had to ask the municipality to develop on the land, and the last time they had made such a request, the municipality had refused.
He agreed with the DG’s proposal of a multi-pronged approach, and the oversight visit that the Committee had proposed. He was looking forward to meeting with the different departments and the visit that the Committee had suggested.
Preparations for 2020 School Readiness
Mr James Ndlebe, Director: EMGD, Department of Basic Education, said the purpose of the presentation was to report on all the components that the Department believed were important to ensure that the sector was ready to start the following school year. These components were:
- Learner admissions;
- Teacher provisioning;
- Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM);
- School furniture;
- Learner transport; and
- School nutrition.
Mr Ndlebe told the Committee that the Department usually started looking at admissions very early. The Department starts off by giving guidance to provinces, developing circulars for provinces which guide how they would run in the coming year. He referred Members to a slide which detailed how many learners had not been admitted for the following year, and said that the numbers were constantly changing. The numbers which were presented were not an actual representation of the number of unplaced learners due to the fact that parents tended to apply to more than one school, or failed to register for the following year if at the same school. The Department focused mostly on Grade 1s and Grade 8s, because these were the entry levels.
According to the figures the Department had received on 26 November 2019, the total of unplaced learners for Grade 1s across the country was 274 000. The reason for such a high number was that parents usually applied to more than one school and did not cancel their applications at other schools once they had been accepted by a certain school. Another reason for this number was that learners who were already at a particular school failed to register for the following year.
The Department had come up with Circular 1 to resolve the issue of undocumented learners, who tended to be from neighbouring countries. There had been challenges over the admission of undocumented immigrants -- the Department’s Act was in contradiction to the Immigration and Refugee Act.
Mr Ndlebe told the Committee that this process was based on the Employment of Educators Act. In September of every year, provinces were required to tell the Department the number of teachers that the province would need for the following year. This year, Limpopo was the only province which had not made this submission. This process was what helped the Department to determine how many teachers were required in each province, and also to get an understanding of how many teachers were in excess at every institution.
Learner Teacher Support Material
Department provided LTSM, and guidance on how it should be used. It looked at the progress of procurement, how far provinces were for school readiness, how much money provinces had put aside for LTSM, as well as how far the Department was to achieving universal coverage in the process of delivering learning materials. Provinces used three models for procuring materials. They could procure everything on behalf of schools, procure on behalf of Section 20 schools, and provide funding for Section 21 schools, who would procure their own materials.The Department was currently on a 99% average of web-book delivery in provinces. The purpose of the LTSM was to encourage provinces to buy in bulk.
Mr Ndlebe said another challenge the Department faced for ensuring school readiness, was making sure that there was proper infrastructure at schools to receive children in the following school year. The Department was currently busy looking at the schools which it had planned to be ready by January 2020, and monitoring them to ensure that they were ready for intake next year. The Department had also been focusing on repairing damaged infrastructure in existing schools.
Maintenance had been one of the things which had not been done well at existing schools and as a result, the Department had decided to take about 30% of the infrastructure budget and dedicate it to maintenance, because failure to maintain the existing infrastructure would cause problems in the future. The Department had established guidelines for provinces to maintain infrastructure which stipulate that every student should have access to a desk and chair at school, and it was required that the furniture in the classroom had to be in compliance with the guidelines of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). The role of the provinces in this process was to help identify which schools were in need of furniture and of these schools, which should be considered as a priority.
According to the figures that the Department had currently, it was transporting 77% of the total number of learners who needed transportation in the country. This figure was separate from those learners who had special needs.
Mr Ndlebe said that the Department was sitting on 97% of its target for school nutrition, and the 2.7% remaining was due to provinces which had transferred funds to schools too late, or the non-delivery of food to schools by food providers. The Department was looking at ways to address these problems. The Department tried to enforce compliance, as well as ensure that the food being delivered to schools was of good quality.
Ms Marchesi asked what the Department was doing to ensure that learners who migrated from rural provinces to the urban areas were accommodated in the new provinces. Did the Department perhaps have the number of learners who migrated between provinces? Were there any benchmarks when it came to maintenance of schools? She raised the issue of furniture and broken desks that were left outside of schools instead of being fixed, and asked about the memorandum of understanding that had been signed between the DBE and Correctional Services for prisoners to help fix school desks instead of the Department constantly having to buy new furniture every time there was a shortage. She also asked the Department, considering the budget cuts, if it could afford SABS furniture.
Mr Moroatshehla referred to the shuffling of teachers to different schools, and asked how the Department was ensuring that disputes between teachers and principals were solved in order to ensure that the teachers knew where to report in the following year. He also raised the issue of uncoordinated or poorly coordinated visits to schools by the different stakeholders, such as committees, political parties, municipalities and departments, and asked how the Department would deal with this issue in order to avoid confusion. Regarding foreign students, he asked what the stance of the Department was regarding registration for migrant children who were in the country illegally. How was the Department planning to address the issue of migrant children who took stationery from South African schools and moved it back to their home countries?
Dr Thembekwayo referred to slide 36 regarding the exercise that needed to be conducted over a two-year period, and asked why the period could not be reduced to 12 months, as two years seemed to be very long. Theoretically, the report looked good, but she wondered if it reflected the reality of the schools. Maybe the provinces should come to report on the realities which they faced on the ground in order for the Committee to gain an understanding of whether the report by the Department was really true.
Ms Sukers asked what the Department was doing regarding rural-urban migrant children who were not accepted in schools at the beginning of the year. Former model-C schools were not willing to make concession to take learners who registered late, so poorer schools ended up being overcrowded because they took in learners who registered late. In the Western Cape, there was a huge problem of learners who were not accepted in schools, and model-C schools refused to take them. She also asked the Department of education if they had formalised the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) textbook, or if they were still in the pilot phase.
Ms King asked if the Department had considered the fact that provinces had cut their budgets for scholar transport as a result of the government’s budget cuts. She also raised the issue of school fencing and security, and said she had visited some schools in “hotspot” areas and found out that they were not fenced. This type of issue resulted in vandalism of school facilities and the distribution of drugs to school learners. She asked how far the Department was with eradicating pit-latrine toilets, and what indication the Department had received from the Eastern Cape regarding progress in this regard. How was it planning on addressing the issue of water shortages at schools situated in drought-prone provinces?
The Chairperson said the Department needed to accept only documented children of foreign migrants, and the South African government needed to be jealous about its education and resources. What was the Department’s plan for readiness at special schools?
Ms Adoons asked if the Department had any measures in place to address the bogus schools which popped up at the beginning of the year due to the high demand for high school places. Had the DBE compared schools to see which were more ready than others? Were there schools that had been reported for non-payment of municipal rates (for water and electricity), and if so, what was the DBE going to do to address this? Were there any reports of schools which were still refusing to accept students due to race or gender? What would happen to schools which had been vandalized or broken into during the school holidays?
Mr Ndlebe began by commending the Committee on the strong oversight that they had conducted over the Department.
He agreed that during school holidays, schools were subjected to vandalism, and Members needed to help the Department to encourage communities not to destroy school infrastructure.
There were no longer reports of racial discrimination, but schools still used sophisticated excuses to refuse admission on grounds permitted by the law.
Regarding water scarcity, the Department was working with municipalities and other spheres of government to see what could still be done to ensure that schools were able to be kept running, despite the drought. It was also looking at contingency plans for dealing with the drought.
The DBE did have the figures of schools which had good practice in terms of school readiness. The Department had come a long way and made a lot of improvements over the years, even though a lot still needed to be done.
Addressing the issue of learner transport for children with special needs, he said that provinces such as Gauteng had really improved and were trying to catch up to the Western Cape. He explained that the reduced numbers in scholar transport could be attributed to the increase in schools for children with disabilities that had been built in Gauteng over the years.
The Department had picked up the boom of bogus schools, especially in Gauteng, and was currently working with the Gauteng province to clamp down on them. The burgeoning middle-class of South Africa was a contributing factor to the increase in bogus schools.
Gauteng and the Western Cape were two provinces which had experienced the challenges of inward migration, and what made the problem worse was that there was an unavailability of land upon which more schools could be built. As unemployment in the country increased, so would the pressure on Gauteng and the Western Cape. The Department had already explored the option of building mobile schools in Gauteng and the Western Cape, but this option had proven to be more costly than anticipated.
The DG said South Africa had very high expectations of its Education Department. He appreciated the Chairperson’s comments regarding the acceptance of children of foreign migrants, and said that sometimes South Africans needed to reflect on their generosity to other people at the expense of fulfilling the needs of the country’s citizens first. This generosity was even reflected in the country’s legislation. He did not want to appear as xenophobic, but the government needed to consider where the resources of the country were going.
The problem of fencing and security arises because of vandalism, and causes more problems for schools and the Department. Maybe the government needed to rethink the way schools in South Africa were built for safety reasons.
At the moment, budget cuts had not affected learner transport. The problem with learner transport was that it tended serve the wants of communities, rather than their needs. Parents tended to choose which schools they wanted to send their children to, instead of just sending them to the nearest school. The Department needed to look into how facilities could be utilised optimally and cost-effectively.
The Department was still in the piloting stage of the CSE textbook.
When it came to school sanitation, the problem was not always with the Department. Sometimes the children at schools were responsible for damaging toilets.
He told the Committee that the presentation by the Department was not based on theory, but real figures taken from schools all across the country. The figures had even been audited, and had been for years.
The Department did not have any plans to deal with migrant children who do not have documentation. Previously, when the Department had tried to deal with undocumented learners, they had been taken to court.
Mr Ndlebe said that in order to address the problem of uncoordinated visits, the entry point for all visits should be the provinces.
The issue of furniture was a problem, not only as a result of damage, but also because community members took furniture from schools for events and did not return it.
Trying to accommodate learners from different provinces was a big problem, because the numbers were always changing, which made it difficult to plan ahead.
He clarified that the SABS standards for furniture applied only to new furniture. The DBE had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Departments of Environmental Affairs and Correctional Services in order to help rehabilitate old furniture.
Adoption of Minutes
The Chairperson asked Members to adopt the Committee’s draft minutes, and these were duly adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.