Follow-up on Oversight Recommendations agreed to for ET Thabane Full Service School, Mount Fletcher; Budget Vote report

Basic Education

18 May 2021
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

 Tabled Committee Reports

ATC210303: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on an oversight visit to the Gauteng Province (Ekurhuleni North Education Districts), KwaZulu-Natal Province (Umzimkhulu and Ixopo Education Districts) and Eastern Cape Province (Matatiele and Mount Fletcher Education Districts) dated 3 March 2021.

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education was briefed in a virtual meeting by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDoE) on their response to recommendations by the Committee following an oversight visit to the ET Thabane Full Service School at Mount Fletcher. 

The Departments reported that there had been progress at ET Thabane in terms of the provision of learning and teaching support materials and stationery; transport for learners; filling vacancies and providing fencing and buildings. 

The Committee was told that the budget for the project had increased from R147 million to R300 million and that the new building would be able to host 1 986 learners. Two funding options had been suggested for the building of ET Thabane: the Budget Facility for Infrastructure (BFI) or the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI). The Departments had recommended the BFI option. 

Members raised concerns around the increase in the budget, as well as the “appalling” conditions at the school in its current state. Members asked for timelines available on the BFI process and whether there was a holistic approach to other schools suffering the same plight. They wanted to know why 15 schools were being sacrificed for the sake of ET Thabane. Questions were raised about the lack of photographic evidence of the progress made; the move towards zero-based budgeting; embracing smart technology in schools; and whether either of the two funding options would result in the building of ET Thabane. 

The Committee also adopted its report on the Budget Vote of the Department of Basic Education with the Democratic Alliance reserving its rights.

Meeting report

The meeting began with apologies from the Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga, and the Eastern Cape MEC for Education, Mr Fundile David Gabe, who was attending a funeral. From the Committee, apologies were given for Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) and Ms M Sukers (ACDP).

The Chairperson welcomed the Members of the Committee and the Departments. The agenda for the meeting was adopted.

She handed over to the Deputy Minister, Ms Reginah Mhaule, who announced that one presentation would be made on behalf of both the national Department of Basic Education and the Department of Education in the Eastern Cape. The Director-General, Mr Mathanzima Mweli, would lead the presentation on the responses to the Committee’s oversight visit to the ET Thabane Full Service School at Mount Fletcher.

DBE response to the changes at ET Thabane Special School

The national Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDoE) presented a response to the challenges at ET Thabane Special School in the Joe Gqabi Education District in the Eastern Cape.

A profile of ET Thabane was provided highlighting the location, demographic, and housing and employment options within the district. The results from 2020 showed that 100 percent of grade R students had passed. The lowest pass rate was 88.2 percent for grade 4.

The Committee was told that the estimated cost for the project in 2018 was R147 million. However, the School Infrastructure Backlogs Grant had been reduced by a total of R3. 69 billion over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, with 32 mega schools being stopped due to a lack of funding.

Progress was reported on the following:

  • Learning and teaching support material (lTSM) and stationery;
  • Learner transport;
  • Filling vacancies ;
  • Fencing and school buildings.

The following had been successes, highlights, and achievements:

  • Learners were being fed;
  • There was curriculum differentiation;
  • Remediation for learners was being done by an NGO;
  • Faith based organisations were assisting learners.

Two options were put forward for the building of ET Thabane:

  • Option one: Building ET Thabane through the Budget Facility for Infrastructure (BFI);
  • Option two: Building ET Thabane through the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI).  

The Departments recommended option one.


Mr B Nodada (DA) welcomed the presentation. He said that there had been an increase in the budget from R147 million to R300 million. The conditions at the school were “appalling” and it needed to be “completely replaced”. Although the interventions regarding prefab classrooms were noted, the Joe Gqabi municipality, in terms of the Department of Environmental Affairs considerations, had closed down certain classrooms. He said that if the budget were to come from the BFI, more clarity was needed to understand that recommendation. Were there any timelines based on the communication regarding the BFI requests, particularity in building the school structure?

He said that the ECDoE had said they would erect four prefab classrooms; however, the current prefab classes needed to be replaced. This would not decrease the pressure of overcrowded classrooms which were “dilapidated”.  What interventions or urgent temporary measures were being put in place to assist with a conducive learning environment for the 1 800 students?

He urged the DBE to supply further timelines regarding the engagements on the BFI and for quarterly reports to be provided to the Committee moving forward to highlight the progress being made. He said that ET Thabane was the only non-fee primary school in the entire community of Ugie. A permanent solution to the problem should be a priority.  

Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) apologised for his late arrival to the meeting. He asked if the focus being placed on ET Thabane had been a result of the oversight visit conducted by Members. He wanted to believe that this was “the tip of the iceberg” as there were many schools, particularly in rural areas, in Kwazulu-Natal (KZN), Limpopo and the Eastern Cape experiencing similar deficiencies. The ECDoE must compartmentalise similar schools falling in the same category as ET Thabane so that they could be discussed and a plan made going forward. He said that it must not be the case that only once a visit had been conducted would a school be investigated, because what would be the case if these visits were not to happen soon? He said that he could see that the plan by the DBE and ECDoE plan was holistic, but it needed to be holistic in addressing all schools which were poorly facilitated.

Ms N Adoons (ANC) welcomed the presentations. She asked why 15 schools were being sacrificed for one school. How had the cost increased to almost double or three times the original budget?

The presentation had not given a true sense of what was being done as there was no evidence or photographs indicating value for money spent. The largest budget had been spent on doors and locks, but what types of doors and locks required such an amount to be spent? 

Electricity had been an expense too, but it was not clear on the “before and after” situations and where the money had been spent. Further clarity would be needed regarding the expenditure. She questioned how this was monitored and whether there were any officials who would monitor the work which had been done. In the Eastern Cape there were “inappropriate structures” which the media could expose. She said that the Committee should be able to see what had been achieved with the expenditure in the report.

Two options had been provided, but she asked for further clarity in order to advise which option should be considered.

Mr G Hendricks (Al Jama-ah) said Parliament should be “happy” that oversight was conducted. He referred to a parliamentary constituency office and rural administrative area in the Eastern Cape which he had visited during the constituency period the previous month. He said there were challenges within the Eastern Cape. The Department must embrace zero-based budgeting, which had been endorsed by the Minister of Finance and the President. There were elements of zero-based funding within the report; however, above that, the inequalities which existed were a concern.

He said there was no evidence in the presentation that the department had embraced digital technologies and infrastructure. This could be an opportunity, given the amount of money spent on the school, to create a “smart school” and ensure that students of the Eastern Cape would compete in the South African and global economy.

He urged the Department to clarify if zero-base budgeting had been embraced and asked if the Department understood what zero-based budgeting was. Lastly, was the department embracing “cyber civilisation” during the planning of new schools?

The Chairperson said there had been a commitment to build a school and it was “unacceptable” that it had not happened. She said that the community and province had been failed owing to the school not being built. It was unacceptable that the report showed two options, but it was still unclear if either would materialise.  She noted that the Committee could not be satisfied by the way ET Thabane had been dealt with.

She agreed with Ms Adoons in terms of the monitoring of progress and asked for pictures of the progress. Where was the maintenance budget - of R215 661 - coming from? Was this from the ASIDI or school fees?

She asked for the second option of ASIDI to be explained in a simplified way. She said that Mr Hendricks had raised an important point on the economy in the country and asked if talking to National Treasury would allow for greater results to be seen, in terms of ASIDI.


The Deputy Minister thanked the Chairperson and Committee for the questions. She handed over to the Director General, Mr Mweli, to continue the responses.

In response to Mr Nodada, Mr Mweli said that the issue of BFI was dealt with at a provincial level and not at a national level. There were two facilities that had been made available through the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Committee (PICC). This opportunity was available at provincial level. At the National level, they were looking towards other needs within the sector, such as focus schools.

He agreed that interventions were needed to address the situation temporarily. The permanent solution was to put up a building using the options spoken of. However, he noted that he felt as if the Committee was not entirely sure that the Department was addressing the temporary measures adequately.

He agreed that a quarterly report would be a good idea and he would meet with the Eastern Cape leadership to ensure that a quarterly report would be given.

In response to Mr Moroatshehla, Mr Mweli said that although ET Thabane had been the focus, 27 other schools had been mentioned in the presentation with regard to the BFI. There were many schools in KZN, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, and ET Thabane was a proxy for the other schools.

Regarding the sacrificing of 15 schools for one, he said that it had to do with the size of the challenge. ET Thabane with 1 900 learners, represented about 15 small to medium sized schools.

The year-to-year escalation costs for building increased every year. This matter began in 2017 with 147 million and, therefore, it would not be surprising to see it increase to 300 million currently. The year-to-year escalation of the price would increase the longer it took to provide a solution to infrastructure. Although certain things could be cut down, the year-to-year escalation would continue in terms of the cost of infrastructure in proportion to the value of fixed properties.

He had said that he had dealt with zero-based budgeting, but that the subject had not come up in recent days. However, because these were multi-year projects, how would you perform zero-based budgeting? These projects could not be completed in one year and would rather take up to two or three financial years to complete. He agreed that the National Treasury had begun to deal with funding on the basis of zero-based budgeting, but with multi-year projects it would be very difficult.

On digital technologies, he said that the Eastern Cape had been a leading province with tablets being given to grade 12 learners across many schools. If it had not been for a court challenge brought forward by the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), the Eastern Cape would be “leading the whole country”. Learners had been given tablets and were using them. He said that the Eastern Cape had acted differently to Gauteng and the Western Cape by initially giving laptops to the staff , consisting of principals, teachers and subject advisors, and then to learners. This, from a national point of view, had allowed for better progress. He said that if the Eastern Cape Head of Department were still around, he would have spoken about virtual schooling as he had been very “taken up with technology and was moving fast”. This had even attracted enemies from some quarters.

The issue of smart schools, prevalent in Gauteng, had its own dimensions. Technology which was permanently located within schools could be at risk of theft, as had been the case in Gauteng. He said that learners and teachers should be given tablets in order to curb the increase in school break-ins and technology theft.

He noted the grievances of the Chairperson and Committee. “We will try to make you happy,” he said. They would work with the Eastern Cape leadership to accelerate the process.

The maintenance budget did not come from ASIDI, but rather from Education Improvement Grant (EIG) or the equitable revenue share if there was any money allocated.

Regarding which option should be taken, he said that the Department recommended the BFI option. The school was “shovel ready” 

Mr Ramasedi Mafoko, Director: School Infrastructure, DBE, said that the initial budget for ET Thabane was R140 million for the school buildings alone and did not include the hostel. The escalation for the building alone was from R145 million to R175 million. The presentation had noted that the hostel was not included. The jump from R145 million to R300 million included the building of the hostel.

He responded to Mr Moroatshehla’s comment on a holistic approach. In terms of the ASIDI for the Eastern Cape in general, 362 schools had been noted. Of the 362 schools, 281 had been completed and 81 were still in construction. Thus, the focus was not only on ET Thabane. This was in terms of ASIDI. However, there were more projects under the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) programme and the Education Improvement Grant (EIG) across the nine provinces. He said that scope of the EIG included the provision of sanitation, electricity, new schools, replacement schools and fencing. He said this approach was holistic in nature.

One of the participants in the discussion, Mr Andre Van der Westhuizen, agreed with Mr Mafoko on a “multi-pronged” approach to the development of infrastructure. It would, in general, be a provincial responsibility and at times there could be cross cutting with National responsibilities. ASIDI and SAFE programs as well as Covid-19 programs were examples of cross cutting into National responsibilities. Funding for ET Thabane had become a new cross cutting issue. The central funding mechanisms were being used to source funding, which was provided by the Treasury, owing to the fact that the department had had to go beyond the “normal infrastructure” grants.

Mr Thabang Monare, Director: Physical Resources Planning, ECDoE, said that the four prefab classrooms would be taken down and replaced with habitable structures. He said that an additional four classrooms would be provided and that the department “must go over and above the commitment” they were making. The department was looking for a relocation area for the prefab classrooms and would prioritise this goal within this financial year.

Mr Monare agreed that the quarterly reports would be a good idea moving forward.

With regard to the BFI, the Department had made a submission to the National Treasury but, specifically, the problem had been the 12 000 special schools. Part of the issue had been that it could not be adjudicated by the National Treasury. However, the submission date for the next five years had been set for 1 April 2022. He noted that the department would be unable to meet that submission guided by the criteria of the BFI. There were problems within the BFI that were not the priority of the Government. There was a vigorous assessment of the submission, and the Department wanted to take on board all stakeholders who would assist in development of these schools.

Projects could only be funded by the BFI if they amounted to R3 billion. The cost of the 29 schools amounted to R2.7 billion.

He said that the maintenance under the Norms and Standards Contributions was owing to the fact that it was a large school. He agreed that more photographs of the progress made, in terms of electricity, locks and doors, were needed and would ensure that in the future.

The Deputy Minister said she understood the challenges that had been raised by the Members and the Departments would work through them. This would not be the last time that the Departments would address the Committee on ET Thabane, and they would also address the 29 schools and the other schools which fell outside the scope of the MTEF. This highlighted the present backlog. 

The Deputy Minister said that school infrastructure was a “moving target” because when one issue had been addressed, more would appear. Communities continued to move and “one day you will see so many shacks” but no schooling would be available. The Department would work together with all Government Departments, as the issue of infrastructure did not  apply only to it. Human settlements must be planned with health and education in mind. This would allow for budgeting for social amenities to occur. The informal settlements in South Africa created further issues for the already enormous backlog.

She noted that there was movement, particularly regarding the Committee’s visit to ET Thabane. The community felt that the visit had yielded fruits. However, the Departments did not only act when visits occurred. There was planning, but they could be “overtaken by events” with the limited resources available from the ASIDI and the EIG.

Closing remarks

The Chairperson asked for a list of the 29 schools which had been spoken of and noted that the pictures which had been shown on the slides did not look like pictures of ET Thabane. She noted that it may have been the angle.

The Chairperson commended the intervention to get additional teachers and the progress which had been made since the February visit.

She thanked the Deputy Minister and the Departments for their contributions.

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on Budget Vote: Basic Education

The report was adopted.

Mr Nodada noted that the DA reserved their rights on the report.

The Committee adopted minutes of previous meetings.

The Chairperson thanked the Committee Members.

The meeting was adjourned.

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