Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education convened in a virtual meeting with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to seek answers regarding the many learners who had not yet been placed in public schooling. The school year had begun in February, yet in March there were still 5 000 unallocated learners. The WCED was asked to provide the Committee with an update on the admission proceedings.
In a political overview, the Deputy Minister of Basic Education drew attention to the issue of unforeseen migration and human settlements in large economic hubs which lacked the infrastructure to welcome new and unregistered learners. The WCED had had to navigate many late applications to remain constitutionally effective, since schooling was compulsory in South Africa. Challenges had included the delay caused by COVID-19’s forced closure of schools, the inter-provincial migration of learners, infrastructural constraints for growing numbers of applicants, the availability of ‘good’ schools, and the issue of placing undocumented learners. The WCED indicated that most of the problems were financial. However, the WCED made great progress by providing teachers, mobile classroom units, and psycho-social support.
Members wanted to know what sustainable measures could be used so that the WCED could become more self-sufficient. They asked about the learner registration scheme, which was developing online, and whether disadvantaged families still be able to carry out manual registrations, in the interest of being inclusive. How were 5 000 students registered in only a month and a half, so long after the academic start of the year? Were they cooperating with the Department of Home Affairs to manage the challenge of undocumented learners?
The WCED said there were still long-term problems with its budget. The infrastructure budget had been depleted by drought relief measures and COVID hygiene equipment. Changes in the National Treasury and the provincial equitable share formula were promising, but they caused consistent delays to its budget planning. Without clear budget plans, it was incredibly difficult to plan anything.
The WCED pointed out that the infrastructure budget was not sufficient to align with learner growth. The throughput rate and the retention rate of children moving from primary school to high school meant that there were not enough high schools for learners. Two sustainable solutions were to move to online learning, and to rotate students in blended learning. However, these options would require more teacher resources and would be costly.
The national DBE said that the COVID pandemic had caused many learners to leave school and migrate. Gauteng and the Western Cape had a large learner growth rate, which followed historical trends, but the pandemic's impact had therefore made it difficult to plan accurately for 2021 learner admissions. Unfortunately, the courts had ruled that in terms of the Constitution, undocumented learners could not be refused admission to South African schools. This meant that illegal learners had access to local resources when South African citizens had so little, but there was nothing the Department could do because the Constitution provided for them.
The Chairperson greeted the meeting participants, including the Deputy Minister, Dr Reginah Mhaule, and the Director-General, Mr Mathanzima Mweli, of the Department of Basic Education (DBE), as well as the rest of their team.
The Chairperson explained the participation of Ms Debbie Schäfer, Western Cape MEC for Education. The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) had requested that the Western Cape representatives join their meeting so that they could engage with their discussion.
The Chairperson outlined the meeting agenda. The item on Learner Admission would be presented by the DBE, and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) representatives would be given time to brief the meeting. Because the Western Cape still had unadmitted learners on the waiting list, it was important that they join the meeting so that the DBE could interact with MEC Schäfer herself. After this deliberation, the Members would consider the minutes of 6 and 7 March.
The Chairperson invited the Deputy Minister to present a political overview.
Deputy Minister's overview
Deputy Minister Mhaule said that admissions had been problematic, despite the policies in place. All provinces had their own timeframes and admission periods, but the WCED was disturbed by many other factors. The movement of people within and between provinces made this difficult. By the time admissions were expected to be closed, a family would move from the area in which they had applied for admission to another area, where admissions were closed. The committees had to deal with these unforeseen circumstances which affected families and parents. The Committee had to find a small window to open for them, because they and the law could not allow any child in South Africa to stay home.
Schooling was compulsory in South Africa, so the Committee had to make sure that all learners were at school. It had experienced problems in the big towns, big cities and the big, economic provincial hubs like the Western Cape and Gauteng. By the time she had concluded the admission of learners, she had found a job in Gauteng where they gave her a house. She had had to leave Mpumalanga with her children. This was why the influx of learners into the big economic provincial hubs became problematic. It affected all learners in all towns and provinces.
There were also many other factors that affected the situation which needed further explanation, such as human settlements. People were settling, and not leaving space for new schools. The people that resided in these areas exceeded the capacities of the schools. When they were put on waiting lists, it became problematic. When their children were admitted to schools up to 50km away from where they lived, that became problematic too. This was what the Committee had to deal with. The presentation would allude to this more.
DBE presentation: Learner Admissions
Mr Mweli thanked the Deputy Minister for providing context to the presentation. He agreed with her in that the presentation covered the Western Cape’s issues. He had had a meeting with Mr Brent Walters, Head of Department (HOD), WCED, on 30 April, and he thought that the interventions made by him and MEC Schäfer had assisted in absorbing some of the unplaced learners.
Mr James Ndebele, Director, DBE, presented the 2021 Learner Admissions Report. The presentation began with a purpose statement to contextualise the meeting. Then a legislative framework from the South African Schools Act (SASA), the National Education Policy Act (NEPA) and the Heads of Education Departments Committee (HEDCOM) justified the legalities of learner admissions. A review of early registration’s effect on resource provision was shared, as well as a methodical explanation and timeframe for the admissions business process period.
This admissions process was affected by COVID-19, and Mr Ndebele touched on its impact on the allocated timelines. The 2020/21 preparations showed that task teams were successful in enforcing the admissions processes eventually. The circulars demonstrated that the provincial admission teams were able to distribute information to keep applicants updated. The number of learners placed, unplaced and migrating were displayed.
Challenges which caused late placements were discussed, followed by the WCED’s counteractive mitigation strategy, which took account of registration problems, learner duplicates and lacking resources. The final issue presented was the issue of placing undocumented learners. Ending on a positive note, the WCED shared the milestones they had achieved with online registrations, as well as their early commencement for 2021 learner admissions.
The Chairperson asked Members to raise their hands if they had any issues which needed clarification from MEC Schäfer.
The Deputy Minister suggested that if any new information was available that was not included in the presentation, then Ms Schäfer should be given an opportunity to address that.
The Chairperson agreed and called on Ms Schäfer
Response from MEC
Ms Schäfer said that the presentation was correct and up to date, but she wished to correct a comment by Mr Ndebele’s comment, which created an incorrect perception. He had said the process took political will from herself, but that certainly was not the case. It was very problematic, as the WCED was in a very difficult financial situation. The new financial year had enabled them to shuffle some money, but effectively the WCED were just delaying the problem till next year unless they got additional funding. They had had urgent provincial meetings on this matter with their Treasury, and had certainly made good progress.
She apologised to the Chairperson for forgetting to greet the Deputy Minister and the officials from the DBE. She introduced Mr Archie Lewis, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Institution Development and Coordination, WCED. She said he had specifically dealt with admissions, and invited him to give the latest update, particularly on the Eerste Rivier learners who had chosen to learn under a tree, despite their allocation to schools. This concerned her, because people were playing political games with education.
Mr Lewis concurred with the presentation, and said that 109 learners were still unplaced. However, their parents had already been issued with letters, and the onus was on them to take the learners to school. The schools had been informed that they would receive learners with those names and grades, but unless the parents reported to the school and admitted the learners, the learners’ names would be removed from the system.
Over and above the challenges indicated by the Deputy Minister, the two critical pressure points were those at Mfuleni, Rossendale House, and in Forest Village in Eersterivier (the school under the trees). At the WCED's first engagement with parents in Forest Village, they had recorded 210 learners who had been placed successfully. Unfortunately those numbers grew. At some point, 600 names from Forest Village were given to the Committee. The WCED had verified these names and found many duplications of learners’ names which were already at other schools. They cleaned that list to around 336 learners. They had now dealt with all of those learners. The last 117 learners’ parents had been allocated letters and requested to report to the schools.
The Rossendale House school was reported to the WCED via the media near the end of February, with about 1 800 unplaced learners. They had had numerous meetings with Rossendale House’s management. Rossendale House was an educational institution which belonged to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). They were concerned about the spaces in the institution and had engaged them, the teachers and the community leaders, which had gathered the learners in Rossendale House. In February, the WCED had requested these parents and teachers to provide the learners’ information for them to be verified and placed.
Despite a protracted engagement with them over a period of weeks, the information which they promised did not come forth. The WCED received this information only in the week of May 10. If the Department was to say that all learners had been placed, then it must be understood that there were still unconfirmed learners. The Department had been given a list of 2 011 learners, which was now in the process of verification. That morning, the staff dealing with this issue had indicated that of the 2 011 learners, 488 had been registered at Western Cape schools which they attended in February.
The Department would find out exactly what had happened, and how many real learners there were to place at Rossendale House. The solution provided after the engagement with the Minister, the HOD and the Treasury, made provision for learners to be placed once they became verified. They also had to get these learners’ details - such as the date of birth, their grade, their report cards, previous schools, addresses, etc.
The Department had also allocated teachers. They were lucky that 7 500 learners were admitted to schools. It had requested that learners be placed into schools in the meantime while they acquired mobile units, which took time. The teachers were allocated immediately, and the schools were requested to adapt their temporarily advised education plans, which the Department had used during COVID.
Learners were not at school every day because of COVID, so the Department was trying to help learners get admitted, so they could get a feel for this year’s education.
The WCED also provided curriculum support in the form of special lesson packs for learners across all grades. District officials were tasked with providing guidance to these schools and monitoring learners’ progress, especially as they would begin writing assessments. The Department made their psycho-social support teams available in every district, as well as their Head Office team.
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) said the presentation was helpful, but it was also equally important to receive responses from the WCED about each of the challenges encountered. The Deputy Minister and her team were doing encouraging work. They were almost at mid-year, but their ability to reflect on the challenges of admissions had to be embraced. The WCED’s challenges could not be questioned. When parents did not have money to take their children to independent schools, then they withdrew them and brought them to public education. This became the Department’s responsibility. At no stage should the Department’s posture prevent learner admission, despite where they came from and what their past education was. The Department appeared to be equal to the task of managing this, but he had two concerns to raise.
Year in and year out, these issues become a challenge - especially with Gauteng and Western Cape admissions. The Western Cape representatives and Mr Ndebele had indicated that the intervention by the Premier in the Western Cape had allowed this problem to be addressed this year -- and the Premier intervened every other year. What sustainable intervention strategies would the Department, especially in the Western Cape, practice so that the Department could address this challenge going forward? When the WCED talked about solutions, they referred to mobile classrooms. Could the Committee have a plan on how the WCED intends to address admission challenges, like the plans the Committee received from Gauteng? When the Committee met in Gauteng, their Department told them that they had audited all open spaces to see which were available to buy for the development of schools, since they were challenged by the lack of infrastructure.
The second issue involved the learner transport. Education was challenged by learners having to pass a number of neighbourhoods to go to far-flung schools. That directly impacted the Department, because they had to source funds for scholar transport. The inequality that COVID had exposed to the DBE must teach everyone a lesson, which was to make improvements in all schools. Sometimes learners left school for a number of reasons -- either the schools performed poorly, or they were dilapidated. There were no parents who would take their children to dilapidated schools. What measures could the Department take to reduce the challenge of long-distance travel when learners leave their neighbourhood?
Finally, he condoned and recommended online registration. The Northern Cape and the Western Cape were upfront with online registrations. Could the Department encourage other provinces to do the same? Not all provinces were equal -- in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, the schools were predominantly in rural areas. Online registration would likely challenge them. Because of the inequality the country faces, as much as the WCED could encourage their schools to utilise online registrations, they should remove manual registration options or walk-ins. If parents went there to make physical registrations, and they were told to register online, this would ignore the inequality which was still the norm in South African society.
Mr E Siwela (ANC) appreciated the Department’s efforts and understood the myriad of challenges which delay learners from finding a place within schools. However, regarding the 129 unconfirmed learners, would the Department be in a position to confirm whether the learners’ parents did indeed receive the notification of placement? What could be the possible cause of the parents not responding speedily to the receipt of an SMS or confirmation? Maybe some provincial policies or school language policies were exclusionary in nature, and prevented parents from taking their children to school, even if they were placed. Was the Department in a position to ensure that school policies and language policies were inclusive and able to accommodate all learners’ access to schooling. If so, how?
Ms N Mashabela (EFF) tried to speak, but her connection was unstable.
The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to mute Ms Mashabela, and then to read Ms M Sukers' (ACDP) questions on her behalf.
Mr Llewellyn Brown, Committee Secretary, said Ms Sukers had stated that it was apparent from the admission crisis which takes place each year, that MECs were not able to adequately comply with the obligations placed on them in terms of section 33 of the SASA. There was a need for oversight from the Ministry in this regard. It was unclear whether adequate plans were in place to ensure compliance with the respective MECs’ relevant statutory duties. In light of this concern, the following questions were raised:
- Had each of the MECs of Education provided the DBE with the requisite section 34 reports, which set out the steps taken to remedy the lack of provincial capacity in 2021 and beyond? If so, could copies of these reports be made available? Were there details on these steps?
- Which national Department would address the admissions crises and ensure that provincial Education Departments complied with their obligations to place all learners in grade appropriate schools?
- Could the latest disaggregated statistics of unplaced learners for each grade per province be provided?
- Lastly, did the figure in the presentation include learners attending special schools and learners other than in grade 1 and grade 8?
The Chairperson called on Ms Mashabela again.
Ms Mashabela shouted "hello" a few times, but her connection was still not very audible.
Mr Brown suggested contacting her directly to get her questions.
The Chairperson asked Mr Brown to check if Ms Mashabela could hear the meeting too.
The Chairperson then raised her own concerns with the DBE. Between March and mid-May, there had been a movement of 0 to 5 000 learner admissions. Could the DBE explain this situation? How could this happen so quickly? How were they able to accommodate 5 000 learners in a month and a half, if they could not accommodate them when the year started? What had changed in this time?
It must be assumed that the DBE and the WCED had not rushed to do this only to impress the Committee during this presentation. What had happened so swiftly in that short period, which could not happen in January or February when school started? Secondly, there was an issue on slide 17, pertaining to the court judgment that the Department had received in 2019. Could the Department unpack that issue?
On slide 14, it said that Gauteng had 25 000 undocumented learners. The previous week, when the Committee was in Pretoria, the MEC of Limpopo had said that they had about 40 000 undocumented learners. This might have had something to do with the borders. What was the relationship between the DBE and the Department of Home Affairs regarding these undocumented learners? Was there a way for the Department to benchmark with other countries on the issue of undocumented learners? How were other countries dealing with this issue? It was concerning that there were learners attending school every day, but they could not be traced because they were not documented. Did these problems exist in other provinces as well?
Mr B Nodada (DA) thanked the Department and the WCED for their presentation, which clarified some concerns. The work that had been done should be commended. However, it was also necessary to make sure that learners’ rights were not being infringed upon. Regarding the financial issues mentioned by MEC Schäfer , which challenged learner placement and the provision of support services, could she explain what was meant by ‘financial challenges’ for the WCED? How could these challenges be remedied? What support could be given from the DBE at the national level so that in future they could be proactive about providing support in classrooms, and for transport and other areas?
Mr Brown told the Chairperson that Ms Mashabela had not responded to his direct messages.
Deputy Minister's responses
Deputy Minister Mhaule said that she would provide an overview of answers, because some answers had already been given in the presentation. The MEC would answer some questions herself too.
In the presentation, they had indicated that the Premier of the Western Cape had had to intervene. When the Department budgeted in the sector, they budgeted per learner. However, all provinces received learners from other provinces and other countries, which had a bearing on the departmental finances. This was why, during the presentation, Mr Ndebele had indicated that they did these admissions for administration purposes and post-provisioning.
For example, when the Department admitted 35 learners, they qualified for one teacher. This process was completed by September. But in January, the Department would receive another 60 learners. This meant that they had to get additional teachers. This was not in the budget, because the budget was informed by the number of learners admitted. The School Nutrition Programme, the Learning and Teaching Support material provision -- everything worked like this. The books were delivered in the prior year by August, at the latest by September or October. By that time, the Department believed that admissions were complete. The books and everything were already ordered, in line with the number of learners. Ms Schäfer would explain this further.
Undocumented learners still posed a problem, but the DBE was working with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). They had re-launched an old campaign together in June 2020. They were travelling with the Deputy Minister for Home Affairs to all provinces and districts. The officials continued to do this work when the DBE was not there.
Emphasis was placed on Grade 12, because those learners were going to exit the system, and if they wanted to go on to higher education, they had to have identification documents (IDs). Last year, they had a total number of 15 551 Grade 12 learners without ID documents. Working with the DHA, the DBE had reduced that number to 1 890. The DHA had processed 7 543 learners. The remaining balance was 2 217 learners. The DBE had gone to the schools to help these learners apply for identity documents, but the challenge was that they did not collect them.
The previous week, in a meeting with the DHA, they had 1 890 IDs that had not been collected by the same learners that they had helped. When the DHA officials went to schools, the learners were being denied entrance by the DBE. The DBE had written a circular to all of the schools to say that they must allow them in. Now, the DBE was also focusing on Grade 10s who were 16 years old and needed assistance in getting IDs.
However, this matter was two-sided. There were South Africans who did not have IDs, and there were learners who came into the country illegally. There was a court case that said the DBE must admit every learner, but they needed identification. The DHA was still working on that, because they were still unable to help those who were without legal documents. They could only help immigrants with legal documents.
Ms Schäfer said Mr Lewis would respond to the first question regarding the plan for the Western Cape, although any plan the WCED had was obviously dependent on additional money, as they had said for quite some time. He would also respond to Mr Siwela’s questions.
Responding to the Chairperson’s questions, Ms Schäfer said that the WCED knew about the meeting only on Saturday night, and it was the first time they had been invited to it. There was no way that anything they did was motivated by their appearance before the Committee. WCED had been concerned about learner placement from the start, and that was why the Premier had intervened at her request, because they had seen that the WCED would be unable to place learners due to an insufficient budget. The Premier had arranged the meeting for the WCED with the provincial treasury, and the new financial year had enabled them to move money around. However, that did not solve the long-term problem.
Responding to Mr Nodada’s request for an explanation of the ‘financial issues,’ she said the WCED had had a consistent influx of about 20 000 learners into the province every year. Initially, there had been a problem with the provincial equitable share (PES) formula because it simply did not provide the money to support the learners. There had been some changes over the last few years from the National Treasury, but the funds were always delayed. The WCED was expected to provide for the learners immediately, but the money would not come until later. When they did get money, it got taken away in other respects. The grants got cut, the baseline got cut, and there had been huge budget cuts over the past few years.
It was extremely difficult for the WCED to plan when they did not know what money was in the budget. This also affected their ability to build schools, because they could not plan adequately when money was being removed. What had also affected the WCED a lot in recent years was the drought in the Western Cape. R300 million had been diverted from the infrastructure budget to drought relief measures, water tanks and so on in schools. In 2020, COVID hygiene expenses, such as sanitisers and masks had cost about another R450 million, which had not been provided by the national government or National Treasury, but had come from the WCED’s existing resources in the infrastructure budget. This had put infrastructure under huge pressure and caused a breach in WCED's obligations, of which they were well aware.
It was very concerning that there was no long-standing solution. The WCED was aware that nationally there was no additional funding overall. Whenever these issues had been raised with the national Minister, she had said that the National Treasury stated that there were inefficiencies in this sector. What this Committee could do to assist the WCED, would be to interrogate these inefficiencies, so that they could be removed. This could be helpful in placing the money where it was needed most. For example, about 2 000 schools in the Eastern Cape had been earmarked with foreclosure, but remained open. That took a huge amount of money away from learners who needed it.
Mr Lewis responded to Mr Moroatshehla, and relayed the Ms Schäfer’s comments about the budget. Most of the infrastructure budget had been redirected in 2017, 2018 and 2019 for drought provisioning, and in 2020 for personal protective equipment (PPE). The basis of their challenges to provide sufficient infrastructure had been a financial one. They had not willfully received less money. The money for infrastructure came from two sources -- the Education Infrastructure Grant directly from the DBE, and supplementary funds received from the PES -- but the infrastructure funding did not keep up with the learner growth in the province.
Learner growth was a combination of two things. Firstly, there was the migration of learners into the Western Cape. Secondly, there were provincial efforts to retain learners within the system. Learners remained in the system for longer when they studied from primary school to high school. Historically, there were fewer high schools than primary schools. Because the throughput rate and the retention rate had improved, the WCED got more learners moving from primary schools into the high schools. The high schools were saturated, and could not provide sufficient spaces for learners.
They could not build more high schools because the infrastructure budget was dealing with two critical issues. The first was the demand for new schools. The second was the high maintenance costs which the country’s oldest schools required. These schools were neglected. This was not willful neglect, but rather a way to deal with learner growth. Money was channeled to new schools, so the old ones were forgotten. If the government and the province did not maintain or attend to them, then the sector would face serious challenges around the health and safety of learners and teachers within these buildings. The DBE must find ways to balance asset maintenance with the provision of new assets, because the budget was not sufficient as it was.
So, what were the sustainable solutions? The first was to get more money, although the WCED understood that the economy had been under pressure. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) was collecting less money than intended, so the National Treasury had less money to invest in departments and provinces. However, as administrators within the sector, the WCED's obligation was to find ways and means to deal with this. One of the possible solutions, which the DG must elaborate on, was the DBE’s announcement that they would look into online schooling. This was a solution, but it was very complicated with many variables. Having teachers, exams and assessments online was difficult.
From his personal experience with higher education, although the learners move out of school to online platforms, there should be provisions to have face to face meetings with those learners. There should be physical school meetings with online learners during school holidays so that they can consolidate the work. This would be a process, but it might help with infrastructure challenges. The second solution was that, as a Department, they had been seriously investing in information and communications technology (ICT) so that they could improve and accelerate blended learning.
If a school which normally accommodated 1 000 learners was fully equipped to provide blended learning, then what prevented that school from taking on 1 000 more learners? To ignore the COVID context, under ‘normal’ circumstances one could have 1 000 learners at school for one week, and the next week the other 1 000 could alternate. When rotating the learners, those that were not at school physically could continue with online learning. However, it was not that simple. If a school had 2 000 learners, they might demand more teaching resources. This had been one of the critical elements of all of the modalities to consider.
It was both a financial and a growth issue. For example, if the WCED admitted 19 000 new learners into the system, then 19 000 learners actually translates to 19 schools of 1 000 learners each. This was not planned for. On average, the WCED completes up to six schools per year, so this puts them into a backlog situation already. 19 000 learners would equate to about 475 new teachers. The teachers got finalised in August, and school staffs were established by September. So, if the staff were allocated and they suddenly needed another 475 teachers when the budget was already depleted, that would create challenges.
Responding to whether the parents had definitely received their admissions letters, the WCED could confirm this. The last 117 parents that the WCED knew of had received the letters, and they expected these parents to report to the schools. Yet one could not be certain why some parents did not respond. Regarding the language policy, it could be indicated with certainty that most of the province’s schools were dual-medium schools. In other words, they offered learning and teaching in Afrikaans and English, and in some other cases there were exclusively English or Afrikaans schools. Most of the learners would be able to manage at dual-medium schools, although there were challenges in the foundation phase, where learners needed education in their mother tongues. The WCED was trying to resolve this, but from Grade 4 onwards, the learners were placed in dual-medium schools.
To answer Ms Sukers’ question regarding the details of the unplaced learners, when the WCED reported on ‘unplaced learners,’ they were referring to learners between grades 1 and 12, not just those from grades 1 to 8.
The WCED had been looking at a system to include special learners on online platforms, but the difficulty with special learners was that they had to be assessed to determine which schools aligned with their disabilities. It was more complicated than the general enrolments or registrations, but the WCED was in a process of figuring out how to accommodate their online registrations.
Finally, he would answer Ms Mashabela’s question, which he had mistaken for the Chairperson’s questions. It was regarding the sudden admission of 5 000 learners in a month and a half. Simply put, the WCED had received funding to overcome that. With the money appropriated, they had bought 129 mobile units and attained an additional 179 teachers. Although the mobile units were not there yet because this took time, the schools had agreed to admit the learners by means of amending the temporarily advised education plans, so those learners had been accommodated.
Conclusion by Director- General
Mr Mweli said that most of the questions had been covered. The issues of the Western Cape were not necessarily a peculiarity, but could be seen in other provinces too. As explained by the Deputy Minister, the issue of large learner numbers was particular to the Western Cape and Gauteng. That was a part of their histories. Many learners were out of school because of COVID-19 related factors, but there were also large migrations which were unusual compared to the historical trends. Planning was informed by historical trends, and one made provisions for people based on what these signs tell one. If reality goes beyond these trends, one was unlikely to plan properly, and this was what the Western Cape experienced.
Mr Mweli confirmed that he had met with the HOD of the Western Cape on 30 April. At that time, three or four days previously, the Premier had already convened a meeting with the Department and the National Treasury to find the solutions which Ms Schäfer and Mr Lewis had shared. As the MEC had explained, the figures presented had nothing to do with this meeting. At that stage, there was no knowledge that the Western Cape would be coming to this meeting.
The HOD had confirmed what Mr Lewis had explained. There were many variables which accounted for the challenge of rising learner numbers. Ms Schäfer had explained the issue of the Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC). They came to the Committee once a year, so some of the Committee's concerns should also be raised with them. Changes to the FFC formula, which affected eligible learners, had taken a while before it could follow the learners. This complicated planning. Without the resources to plan, it was difficult.
In response to Mr Moroatshehla, he said 80% of learners were benefiting from learner transport. 20% were still in need. However, a large portion of these learners were also fed by the state. This was a choice, not a need, made by parents. Some of these children were even fed by their places of residence at schools. As the Treasury had indicated, these challenges could be found across the length and breadth of the country, and needed to be dealt with. Essentially, taxpayers had been paying for choices, not needs. This was also linked to schools that had been perceived as providing quality education. This was an issue because quality education should be available at all public schools, and this would help the DBE when dealing with parents moving their children from one school to another.
The court ruling on slide 17 was the same court ruling that the Deputy Minister had referred to, involving the Eastern Cape’s undocumented learners. The real problem here was what the South African Constitution allowed. It did not allow the DBE to exclude learners who were undocumented. These undocumented learners were siphoning resources which should be benefiting South African citizens. Undocumented learners were found across all provinces and in the neighbouring states. The Deputy Minister, for instance, could give one many stories from when she was an MEC in Mpumalanga. Learners would come for about two months just to collect stationery, then they would go back to Mozambique. The same applied to learners who came from Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Limpopo and so on.
The Constitution had prevented the WCED from excluding those learners on the basis of being undocumented, and this was why the WCED had lost that case in 2019. They had worked and gone to court with Home Affairs, but had lost. The South African Constitution was one of the best in the world, but it was one of the few that said the country belonged to all who lived in it. It did not specify that it belonged to South Africans. Maybe this was an issue that Members of Parliament could debate, to determine how to protect the country’s resources for those who were deserving. The undocumented learners were also accompanying illegal migrants, but nothing could be done because they were protected by the Constitution. They had to be accommodated in schools and given resources which should be benefiting legal South African learners.
The Chairperson thanked the WCED and the DBE for their work and their adequate responses.
In the absence of questions, she thanked the Deputy Minister and Mr Mweli. She also thanked the Deputy Minister for hosting the Committee in Pretoria.
Adoption of Committee minutes
The Chairperson presented the minutes for the meeting on 16 March 2021.
Mr Siwela moved for the adoption of the minutes, and was seconded by Ms N Adoons (ANC)
The minutes were adopted.
The Chairperson then relayed the minutes for 17 March 2021.
Ms Adoons moved to adopt the minutes, and was seconded by Mr Siwela.
The minutes were adopted
The Chairperson thanked the Members, particularly for their participation in the previous week’s oversight. They had managed to deal with a number of issues and finished all of their meetings. She said it would be a very short term. The Committee would be finished in the first week of June and would return only in the first week of August. There would probably be an oversight visit again in the Western Cape if was approved by the House Chairperson. They would be informed with more details later.
The meeting was adjourned.
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