Mpumalanga ED on Status and Impact of COVID-19 Lockdown on Schooling; Matebe submission; with Deputy Minister

Basic Education

06 November 2020
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

Video: JM: PC on Basic Education & Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

In a virtual meeting, the Portfolio and Select Committees were jointly briefed by the Mpumalanga Department of Education (DE) on the status and impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on schools in the province, as well as by the Northern Cape DE on the lack of English-medium classes in the Namakwa District.

The Mpumalanga DE said it had to put together a framework to assist in the recovery of the curriculum after the COVID-19 lockdown, and to mitigate the impact of the extended school closure. This had involved revising the school calendar, curriculum reorganisation and trimming, as well as the revision of assessment requirements. Despite the challenges faced, the Department was confident that the Grade 12 class of 2020 was ready for the end-of-year examinations..

The report also indicated that the majority of the learners who were deserving of the school nutrition programme had been deprived of a daily meal during the lockdown, resulting in the Department having to intervene with solutions. Other challenges had involved providing basic needs, such as water and sanitation, which the Department had addressed.

The Department responded on how it had dealt with the findings on personal protective equipment (PPE) issues in the Auditor General’s report, which had found that some of the education departments, including Mpumalanga, had not taken advantage of the available systems, and had used unreliable processes.

While Members appreciated the comprehensive report, they expressed concerns that included:

  • What mechanisms had been put in place to strengthen controls in areas that had been identified?
  • How far was the Department with the implementation of the action plan on the previous Auditor- General’s report?
  • What would the Department be doing to restore the HIV programme budget?
  • Were independent schools the only ones being monitored?
  • What plan was on the table to source mathematics and science teachers for next year?
  • Would it not have been cheaper if the PPE had been bought directly from the manufacturers?

The Northern Cape Department provided a background and an update on the progress made about the request for dual medium classes. A survey had found that the number of Afrikaans home language speakers far exceeded those who had requested that English be included as a medium of instruction. However, the Department had made provision for the procurement of English textbooks and a teachers’ guide from Grades 2 to 7. It acknowledged the requests for the implementation of English-medium classes in the Namakwa district, but stated that the numbers were too low and it was impracticable to implement it at this stage.

Members shared their disappointment about what this meant in a democratic country. Some viewed this as an opportunity for the province and Department to expand and be innovative, and others asked what could be done in the meanwhile to assist the learners who were facing difficulties while the Department looked for a permanent solution

Meeting report

Dr Reginah Mhaule, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, informed the Committee about the start and progress of the examinations. She said that all the learners were ready for the examinations, and added that no glitches had been experienced.

Due to another meeting taking place at the same time, she requested time to go and present there while the Mpumalanga Department made its presentation.

Impact of Covid 19 lockdown on schooling in Mpumalanga

Teaching disruption

Mr Jabulani Nkosi, Head of Department (HOD): Mpumalanga Education Department, said the pandemic had brought many challenges for many departments, and the lockdown had created a unique situation where teaching and learning had been disrupted. The original 2020 school calendar had 42 teaching weeks, but this had had to be changed due to COVID-19 and was reduced to 37 weeks, meaning five weeks were lost. Grades 7 and 12 had recovered most of the teaching time, while the other grades had lost most of it.

The sector had put together a framework to provide for the recovery of the curriculum after the COVID- 19 lockdown, and to mitigate the impact of the extended school closure. The framework consisted of:

  • A revised school calendar;
  • Curriculum reorganisation and trimming; and
  • The revision of assessment requirements.

Mr Nkosi said that despite these challenges, the province was ready to present the Grade 12 class of 2020 with confidence.

Schools vandalised

At the inception of the national lockdown, the province had seen an increase in the number of schools vandalised. This was now happening on a larger scale than before the lockdown. A total of 159 schools had been vandalised within a short space of time, and this had added to the financial burden on the infrastructure grant.

Reporting on the progress of repairs, he indicated that repair work by the Mpumalanga Regional Training Trust (MRTT) was in progress, and to date only 42 were still at various stages of repair. The assessment of 35 schools had also been completed. The Department of Public Works: Roads and Transport (DPWRT) term maintenance contractors had been appointed to address the storm damage programme implemented by Mpumalanga Department of Education (MDoE), which was expected to be completed by December. Various measures had also been implemented to deal with vandalism in schools, which included repairing the vandalised schools, which had since been completed, and school governing bodies (SGBs) had been encouraged to utilise their day to day maintenance budgets to repair minor infrastructure.

Nutrition programme

The report also touched on the nutrition programme, indicating that the majority of the learners that were deserving of the programme had been deprived of a daily meal during the lockdown, and the Department had had to intervene. The total number of learners that benefit from the programme were 913 533, and those who were fed at the schools were 642 616. The measures that had been put in place to encourage more learners to receive school meals included advocacy by the Department for the provision of meals by schools to learners -- even for those who were still at home.

Health measures

Mr Nkosi said that the safety of learners and staff members came first, as outlined by health authorities and the Department of Basic Education. This had therefore had an impact on the finances of the Department. The employment of school support teams (SSTs) to manage the cleaning and the screening of staff and learners using the HIV/AIDS grant had brought some relief. The provision of mask breaks regularly -- every two hours -- had been granted to all learners and educators.

The impact of social distancing had led to the province finding itself in a situation where there was a shortage of desks and chairs. In scholar transport, a challenge also arose where the transport was not able to maintain social distancing while learners were being transported. The Department needed 14 078 additional classrooms when using a ratio of 1:25, and the cost was estimated at R3.8 billion, which was beyond the annual budget. Other challenges were related to social distancing in hostels. (See presentation on the impact of Covid 19 in schooling).

With regard to water and sanitation, the Department had to address challenges by providing mobile toilets and water tanks, amongst other interventions. Besides these challenges, more teachers were also required to replace or substitute those who were more vulnerable because of co-morbidities. The number of teachers that had returned to work in Mpumalanga was 2 420, while 80 were still working from home.

Curriculum support

On the preparations for the Grade 12 class of 2020, 1 250 school visits were conducted to monitor and support schools on curriculum coverage, and 90% of the schools were in line with the annual teaching plan. Various interventions, including conducting lessons on community radio stations, had been implemented. Learner camps at provincial, district, circuit and school bases were also held.

Mr Nkosi said that the province had experienced endless disruptions to teaching and learning due to the temporary closure of schools for cleaning and disinfection. Other challenges were in the districts and head offices due to infections. The closing of offices led to the slow processing of other COVID-19 procurement processes, which in turn delayed the reopening of some schools. The Department had indicated that all the preparations for the 2020 Grade 12 examinations had been completed, despite all the challenges that had been faced.

Findings on PPE purchasing

The findings in the Auditor-General of South Africa’s (AGSA’s) report for Mpumalanga on the purchasing of personal protective equipment (PPE), were that some of the Departments of Education had not taken advantage of the available systems, which had led to them using unreliable processes to determine the quantities required. In response to these findings, the MDoE had used the South African School Administration and Management System (SA-SAMS) system to determine the needs for PPE. The Department had also had to take measures to strengthen its internal controls.

The second finding of the report had been that the Department had inconsistently supplied PPE for school officials and educators, and as a result, the Kwamhlanga Secondary School had had to spend R2 400 to buy 32 face shields for their 26 teachers and six non-teaching staff. In response to this, all schools were subsequently provided with necessary COVID-19 essentials as directed and guided by the DBE.

The third finding indicated that the face masks received by Kwamhlanga were incorrect, and the Department had responded by returning those that were incorrect, and they were subsequently replaced. The MDoE had also received more PPE than it had ordered and paid for. To respond to this, the Department had since determined that the excess delivery had been a single mask.


Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) commended the Department for its role during the COVID 19 period. He mentioned the importance of the DBE being kept informed. The Portfolio Committee had already received a report from AGSA on some of the experiences, particularly the bad experiences that had been encountered. He said that Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal were at the top of the agenda, where several deficiencies had been recorded, especially those relating to PPE. What had been found from the report was that both the capacity and capability within the Department had been the root cause of the state that it found itself in, or for it failing to reach its mandate as expected.

With more focus on the AGSA report, several matters had been observed:

  • In both Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, the Department appeared to not have adequate and internal control measures to execute its duties. He asked what mechanisms had been put in place to strengthen controls.
  • The Department had limited staff, which had led to the lack of, or failure to implement its specific duties and responsibilities.

Mr Moroatshehla shared concerns about the implementation of the action plan in Mpumalanga. He asked how far the Department had been with the implementation of the action plan in the previous AG’s report, which had indicated the shortfalls.  Following this was the conflict of interest, where in most instances the problems had emanated from the way that officials managed the previously mentioned set of issues. He asked to what extent this had been observed, and what had been done about it.

Ms A Maleka (ANC. Mpumalanga) wanted to know how the Department was responding to the issue of staff members who had not reported to their respective schools, and how many of those members had applied for a concession to work from home in the province. With a specific focus on the budget, she also wanted to know how much had been allocated to respond to the pandemic, and how many schools had been affected by this deviation of funds.

Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) said there was concern over the AG’s report, which had highlighted non-compliance and the irregular expenditure of funds. Drawing from this report, she said there was an alarming rate of non-compliance and irregular expenditure, and asked what was being done about consequence management. What steps would be taken to rectify the matter so that there was no repetition? How would the issue of water and sanitation be resolved going forward? With regard to money deviated from the HIV programme budget to respond to the pandemic, she questioned what the Department would be doing to restore the HIV budget.

There was also concern regarding the difficulties experienced by the Department concerning mathematics and science teachers. What plan was on the table to source mathematics and science teachers, especially for the forthcoming year? Lastly, there was a request for clarity on the issue regarding the 80 teachers working from home. She wanted to know the reasons relating to teachers still working from home, the timeframe for this, whether substitute teachers would be allocated, and how much money would be needed for this.

Mr E Siwela (ANC) said the report had been able to inform the Committee on the activities of the Department throughout the COVID-19 period. However, his concern was that despite the Department being able to share information on examinations, indicating where monitors had been deployed, no information had been shared about public schools in general. Were independent schools the only ones being monitored? Had the masks that did not fit the specifications been paid for? He also referred to the question posed by Ms Christians about consequence management, asking whether the measures put in place were stringent enough to deter officials from committing the same offences.

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) asked for an update regarding the disrupted schools in Mpumalanga, especially during the COVID-19 period, with specific reference to Seabe Village in Mmametlhake, as it had appeared in the media. She was concerned about the degrading conditions at special needs schools in Mpumalanga. The Committee had not received a report on what had been done to improve the makeshift bedrooms, with no bathrooms. She also asked about the Department’s data support to teachers and learners during lockdown, especially for rural and farm schools.

Ms N Shabalala (ANC) referred to the matter relating to masks, and asked whether the Department had been able to give suppliers specifications.

Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) told the Committee and the Department about parents who had reported that some of the learners had tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of the examinations. She said that parents had disclosed that some of the learners were asymptomatic, while others had mild symptoms. While the Department had released a statement regarding this, she wanted to know whether the Department in Mpumalanga had been aware of this, and whether they had implemented this in the province. She also requested for clarity on the matter concerning teachers who were still working from home. Lastly, she wanted to know what the plans were regarding the HIV programme and whether any partnerships would be formed with other departments, such as the Departments of Health and Social Development. 

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) asked for clarity on the suppliers of PPE. Referring to the Department’s decision to buy from a service provider instead of directly purchasing from the manufacturer, she asked if it would not have been cheaper if the PPE had been bought directly from the manufacturers. She requested attendance figures, especially for Grade 11s.

Ms N Mashabela (EFF) began by wishing the class of 2020 all the best, despite the difficulties endured during the Covid-19 pandemic. On the matter relating to PPE procurement, she requested a report on the budget from March 2020 to date, and a list of all the companies that had received tenders. She added that the Department had also failed to pay substitute teachers, and asked when they would be getting their salaries.

Ms N Adoons (ANC) asked about the condition of the vandalised schools, and whether any provision had been made for learners of the affected schools.

The Chairperson also shared her observations from the Covid-19 period, stating that many teachers had lost their lives due to the pandemic. Reiterating the subjects covered by the Committee, she said that the Department needed to take accountability for its decisions and leadership on many matters, and emphasised that the country was looking up to leaders during this period.


Mr Mathanzima Mweli, Director-General, Department of Basic Education (DBE), said the MDoE appreciated the comments made by the Committee. The first interim report had allowed the Department to correct problems that had been uncovered. There were issues with the internal controls that had been acknowledged by the HOD, who had given a comprehensive report which Members of the Committee had appreciated and shared their concerns on.

The key issues were the corrective measures that the Department had taken to address all the identified weaknesses. There had been an emphasis on how crucial consequence management was, but preceding this had been thorough investigation. Imperial Logistics had been a company identified by National Treasury to coordinate the procurement of Covid-19 essentials for all government departments, as well as entities set up by the government. The reason behind this was due to South Africa not having any Covid-19 essential products in the market, with most being imported from Asia, specifically China. Therefore, this company had been overwhelmed and could deliver only gloves in the entire Mpumalanga consignment, whilst it had found it difficult to deliver in the remaining eight provinces. This had further delayed the procurement of Covid-19 essentials and the reopening of schools. The Department had been then thrown out of their plans by four weeks. The Department had also ordered two million masks which they had needed to share with four other provinces to assist them, and these were masks that had no defects.

The official said that learners who had a temperature of 38 degrees and higher, as well as those who tested positive for COVID 19, should be allowed to write, but from the advice received, this was to be done in isolation from other learners. Those who tested positive had to be quarantined. There was a specific case relating to this matter, and six provinces had experienced it. This would be addressed at the next meeting.

Unions had been concerned about the safety of learners, and there were ongoing meetings regarding this. The Department had taken measures to ensure the safety of everyone, especially the learners, and the protocol would also be amended, as the prior protocol did not allow learners who tested positive to write.

The class of 2020 had displayed extra ordinary determination and resilience, so it was paramount that the Department support them, as they had always done in the past with learners who faced difficulties, and those who ended up in hospitals and in correctional facilities.

Mr Nkosi confirmed that the Department was committed to ensure that all the issues raised by AGSA in the interim report were attended to and implemented. It acknowledged that it had to work on how it would improve consequence management. It would share how it intended to improve internal controls, and how it had implemented the previous report recommendations from the AGSA.

Basic services in schools

Addressing the concern over basic services at schools, Mr Nkosi said the Department of Public Works had already appointed contractors to implement permanent solutions. In conjunction with the Department of Human Settlements, the Department was installing boreholes where there were challenges with the supply of water. This was being prioritised in the current financial year considering the Covid-19 implications in schools. The business plan had also been amended, especially with regard to the HIV grant, but this amendment did not imply that the Department was compromising what was being done on the ground. Savings had been achieved during the lockdown due to identified inactivities.

Teacher shortages and salaries

Funza Lushaka bursary holders had been appointed at some of the schools as teachers, as well as substitute teachers. The Department was also aware that some teachers had not been paid, and in those cases it had had investigated, and the situation would be corrected in the next two weeks. Regarding the teachers who had not reported back to schools, some were reported as having co-morbidities, whilst an investigation was under way into those who had not returned to the schools.

Mr Nkosi also addressed the matter relating to monitors. He confirmed that monitors were not only deployed to independent schools, but to all schools in general in Mpumalanga.

The Department was also working with community radio stations to address the provision of curriculum support, as well as an intervention. A separate report would be provided on the Seabe School.

Corruption and consequence management

Mr Nkosi said that the issue relating to corruption in the Department would be investigated, and that an update would be provided. He confirmed the information shared by the Director General with regard to the issue on masks. Specifications had been submitted, along with requests for quotations (RFQs). He could not defend what the service provider had done, but the AGSA report and internal control measures had indicated that quality assurance was not conducted from the Department’s side. Consequence management would be applied to address this matter. The Department had paid only for the correct masks. The decision to use service providers instead of manufactures had been prompted by the pressure the Department was under, as it had had no time to go to the manufacturers. In future, the Department would do better, but under the given circumstances, the decision was taken under pressure.

Mr Nkosi asked to be allowed to provide the rest of the information that had not been addressed in the responses in writing, and added that the Department was listening to the Committee and was committed to working diligently.

The Chairperson thanked the Department for addressing the Committee and for the responses.

Matebe submission

Following this on the agenda was the matter related to a parent, Ms Mathebe, as well as an address from the Northern Cape Department of Basic Education.


The Chairperson welcomed Ms Brenda Matebe, who was a single parent of two learners, who had moved from the Eastern Cape to Nababeep, near Springbok, in the Northern Cape, to the virtual meeting.

Ms Matebe had moved from the Eastern Cape to the Northern Cape in 2016. However, she explained the challenges she had faced in finding schools for her children to the Committee. The main challenge was to find an English medium school for her children due to 74 schools in the province being Afrikaans-medium.


Mr Mweli responded by sharing his sympathy with the parent, and shared information on the current projects in the Springbok area.

Mr Zolile Monakali, Northern Cape MEC: Education, was aware of the matter and due to this the Department was in the process of introducing interventions to deal with this issue. The interventions would be shared in the presentation by the Northern Cape DBE.

English medium classes in Namakwa district

Mr Alistair Andrews, Acting Head: Northern Cape Department of Education, said that the presentation would provide a background and an update on the progress made regarding the request for dual medium classes. He gave a brief background on the matter. (See presentation).

He reported on the home language offerings in the Namakwa district, where it had been found that 18 406 learners had Afrikaans as their home language, and only nine had it as a second additional language.

He also offered a breakdown of the home language offering in cluster primary schools. He reported that eight primary and intermediate schools were situated within a radius of 20 km from Springbok, and 29 out of 4 052 (0.72%) learners had English as their home language, while 67 (1.7%) had either English, isiXhosa, isiZulu, SeSotho, SeTswana, isiNdebele or “other” as their home language combined.

The provincial office had received a request from the district office to procure English textbooks for learners at the Springbok Primary School. Ten English-medium textbooks had been ordered for learners, plus one teacher guide for every subject and for all grades, from Grades 2 to 7. It was expected that these books should be delivered to the Springbok Primary School by 13 November.

The report cards for the October examinations would be issued only by 6 November due to technical problems that had been experienced with the SA-SAMS system.

The Department concluded by stating that it acknowledged the requests for the implementation of English-medium classes in the Namakwa district, but the number of parents seeking English-medium instruction in the district was too low and impracticable to implement at this stage.


Ms Sukers said that it was a disservice to children when they could not learn in their mother tongue, as it developed their critical thinking and literacy competency better. She suggested that alternative education models worked better, as could be seen in independent schooling options. With this in mind, she asked if there was no way in which the DBE could make this option available in similar cases, bearing in mind that current policies did not allow for such provisions. She added that it was challenges such as these that provided an opportunity for the Department to expand and be innovative, and it was of course in the best interest of children as well.

Ms Mashabela said this matter was disappointing, especially considering that South Africa was multilingual, and to come across an area which chose to teach in one language was problematic. She said that a common language of communication was English, although it was not the only language, and children needed to be taught in a language that they would be able to understand.

A Committee Member said that there were 11 official languages in South Africa, and for a district with over 74 public schools to use only one language of instruction was undemocratic, and bordered on being unconstitutional. The Department needed to ensure it catered to the diverse nature of South Africa’s communities.

Ms Tarabella-Marchesi extended her gratitude to the Director General for assisting a learner who was at a brink of potentially not writing, and said she hoped that the Department would be able to assist Ms Matebe. She said Section 29 would have to be tested in the courts to see its applicability in practice. She repeated that the issue of the language in Namakwaland was a disadvantage to many learners.

Ms Christians said that the Northern Cape was predominantly Afrikaans-speaking, but this was an opportunity for the Department to be innovative. She added that provinces such as the Western Cape had also turned to online teaching so that it could assist learners who were facing difficulties.

Ms M Gillion (ANC, Western Cape) shared her disappointment regarding the usage of one language in a district, and said she believed it was not isolated to this area alone. A National Development Plan (NDP) had been drafted, and learners could not be excluded from accessing education because of a language barrier. This was a problem every year, and was not restricted to only the Northern Cape. Emphasising on the need for diversity, she said the Department would need to do something about this, adding that it had been long overdue.

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked whether there was a strategy to deal with transformation issues such as the case that had been raised, and who would be responsible for this matter.

Mr M Bara (ANC, Gauteng) asked what could be done in the meanwhile to assist the learners while the Department looked for long term solutions.

Ms Adoons reiterated Mr Bara’s question, and said that there had been similar issues in other places. She believed the Department could assist the learners while it looked for long term solutions.

Ms Shabalala said it was possible to deal with this matter, suggesting that there were teachers who could be dedicated to teaching in English at these schools.

The Chairperson commended Ms Matebe’s bravery in approaching Parliament regarding the issue of the language barrier in the Northern Cape. She requested clarity on textbooks that had been translated. Reiterating what other Members had stated, she said that she believed that the Department would be able to find a solution, and that transformation was required.

Ms Matebe responded on the textbook issue, and said that the textbook resolution had been her idea when she approached the Department to assist her children at home. She had also raised a concern regarding the language policies at the schools. She said the schools communicated in Afrikaans with non-Afrikaans speakers and whenever a complaint was lodged, the schools did not address them. Among these complaints, she and her children faced racism and unfair treatment, while other families also faced the same challenges. She added that the Department had stated in the report that it had investigated the allegation of racism, but no one had approached her prior to finalising the findings on this.


Mr Mweli commented on the matter and said that he was extremely sympathetic to the case. He said that the Head of Department, along with the Deputy Minister, were in the process of thinking about the solutions. There were similar cases around the country, and they needed to address the practicability of interventions and the costs involved. He also informed the Committee that Afrikaans was considered as more of an African language than English, as it had found its origins in Africa.

Mr Monakali also acknowledged and appreciated the bravery of the parent to take this matter further. He said the Department would commit itself to assist the learners, even though it faced challenges such as financial constraints as well. The MEC said the Department would also follow up on the bullying that happened within the school environment, related to language barriers.

Mr Nkosi said he had nothing to add to what had already been covered, and requested time to follow up on the issues that been brought to light.

The Chairperson said that the Department would have to work on resolving similar issues before they came to Parliament. She also thanked Ms Matebe for taking initiative to try and resolve the matter.

The meeting was adjourned.


Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: