Follow-up: Implementation of Committee recommendations during KZN and EC oversight visits; with Deputy Minister

Basic Education

08 March 2022
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

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 met on a virtual platform with the Deputy Minister, Members of Executive Councils and Heads of Departments, as well as other senior education officials from KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, to receive updates on the implementation of recommendations from the Committee following an oversight visit. The purpose of the visit had been to assess the readiness of schools for the 2021 academic year.

The major issues identified in both provinces were shortages of learning and teaching support materials (LTSM), infrastructural problems, overcrowding, access to water, learner transportation, safety and security, and the non-payment of education assistants.

The Department of Basic Education’s budget could not afford more resources to provide additional security to schools. Other departments, such as the Department of Safety, also played a role. Different sectors and stakeholders needed to be engaged to stand together to fight these challenges.

Most of the challenges facing the LTSM issues had been addressed. The Eastern Cape blamed the delay in delivering LTSM on a change in procurement methodology.

All education assistants in KZN had been paid. The final payment for teaching assistants in the Eastern Cape had gone through on 8 March. The Chairperson suggested that the MEC in the Eastern Cape should hold a media briefing to inform the public that education assistants had been paid.

Both provinces had addressed problems with infrastructure, overcrowding, water supply, and learner transport. However, change had been slow due to previous unfinished projects and budget constraints.

KZN was praised for its efforts to curb the dropout rate in schools and achieve higher pass rates. Members of the Committee inquired about the main challenges that schools faced regarding new technical classes, such as robotics. They also asked for confirmation that the Departments were following recommendations from the Special Investigating Unit’s report, and if the implicated officials were being held accountable.  There was a general appreciation by the Committee for the effort put into both presentations.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the Members of the Executive Councils (MECs) for Education from KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and the Eastern Cape, as well as the Heads of Department (HoDs) and senior officials.

Deputy Minister input

Dr Reginah Mhuale, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, said the departments were present to report back on the issues picked up during the Committee's oversight visit but the departments had actually looked beyond these issues. She appreciated that the Committee held the departments accountable through oversight. She said the presentation had been beefed up since they were initially drafted, upon advice from the Department of Basic Education (DBE).


Mr Fundile Gade, Eastern Cape MEC for Education, apologised on behalf of their HoD, who was ill. She was in the meeting but needed to consult a doctor immediately.

The aim of the meeting was to report the progress of the Committee’s recommendations on an oversight visit to KZN and the Eastern Cape. The oversight was conducted to assess the readiness of schools to reopen for the 2021 academic year.

KZN response to Committee's oversight visit

Mr Kwazi Mshengu, KZN Education MEC, requested that the newly appointed HoD, Mr Nkosinathi Ngcobo, start the presentation on some of the issues raised by the Committee on their oversight visit to KZN.

Mr Ngcobo presented recommendations by the Committee during their oversight visits and compared them to the response of the KZN Department of Education. The presentation addressed financial, curriculum, transport, infrastructure and human resource issues.

The Committee was concerned about the procurement of COVID-10 essentials. The process was, by and, successful.

He addressed curriculum-related issues at the Kromhoek Primary School, Ixopo High School, Impunga Secondary School and Nombewu Full Service School. These issues included delayed deliveries in Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM), academic improvement plans, technical training, and stolen school equipment. Learners still faced transport issues, as it was seriously underfunded. However, there were continuous engagements regarding the budget for learner transport, especially for rural schools.

In collaboration with relevant stakeholders and local municipalities, the Provincial Department had ensured that schools were supplied with adequate running water. The Department was also rolling out the installation of boreholes as a permanent intervention for water supply in schools. Schools currently receiving water through municipalities had been prioritised under borehole installation programmes.

The presentation addressed infrastructural issues in specific schools. These included problems of overcrowding, non-functioning bathrooms, repairs and maintenance. Human resources challenges had been handled, as all critical educator posts in the Department had been filled, and all education assistants had been paid their stipends.

Eastern Cape response to Committee's oversight visit

MEC Gade apologised for the hiccups regarding the drafting of the reports. Some information had to be edited to ensure that the Committee was not misled. He introduced Mr Ray Tywakadi, Deputy Director-General: Institutional Management, to lead the presentation.

Mr Tywakadi said the Portfolio Committee had visited the ET Thabane Primary School, Sidinane Senior Second School, Moshesh Agricultural School and Sive Special School in the Eastern Cape. Challenges that needed to be addressed were the impact of COVID-19 on schools, LTSMs for all schools, admission problems, filling teacher vacancies, school drop-out rates and the payments for education assistants.

The Department and the Committee had agreed on the main findings. Firstly, all challenges had to be reported to the National Department of Education. Secondly, the provincial Department had to ensure that all vacant positions were filled. Thirdly, education graduates had to be utilised. Fourthly, the non-payment of education assistants had to be addressed. Schools in the Eastern Cape faced similar challenges in terms of safety, working infrastructures and overcrowding, and these were being addressed.

(For further information, please consult the presentations.)


Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) expressed appreciation for the efforts put into the presentations from the two provinces. He congratulated Mr Ngcobo on his new HoD position.

He asked Members to consider the issue of safety and security in schools specifically. He had conducted his own research and found that South Africa ranked 19th out of 193 counties in the index of environmental criminality. This included burglary, vandalism and theft. Unfortunately, these crimes were prevalent in South African schools. The Department and the communities were doing everything in their power to provide quality education for all. Unfortunately, school equipment, computers, and even food from the school nutrition programmes, were not safe. He acknowledged all the efforts and strategies from KZN to end crime in schools. He proposed that the Department implement similar strategies as KZN across all provinces to fight crime in schools -- to stand up and keep all schools safe.  

The DBE was trying to improve conditions in schools, but school equipment kept on being vandalised or stolen. Communities needed to take responsibility to prevent this, but the policies and operational procedures must be clear. Communities might need to contribute to funding to keep the property and personnel safe. Several educators had lost their lives on school grounds. He stressed that all sectors had to rise to create peace within the schools of South Africa. Challenges regarding safety and security in the Eastern Cape were similar to those in KZN, so the same recommendation was applicable. All sectors needed to join hands to ensure safety for the students and personnel in all schools.

He expressed outrage that some education assistants had not been compensated for their work from December 2021 until February 2022 in the Eastern Cape. He appealed to the MEC and the HoD to have ‘sleepless nights’ until this problem was resolved. The education assistants had been budgeted for and therefore should have received compensation. If payment problems were due to human error, those responsible should be punished.

Mr B Nodada (DA) expressed gratitude to the presenters for the feedback. In January, he had visited both KZN and the Eastern Cape to follow up on certain issues raised in specific schools. He referred to KZN and enquired about interventions regarding water provision. There had been a previous suggestion that the Department collaborate with various directly affected municipalities. How many schools still had problems with water? Were there any plans to address the issue of access to water? Was the Department interacting with the municipalities?

During the oversight visits, they had identified that there had been poor accountability measures in terms of procurement during COVID-19. Had the MEC engaged with the HoD to implement accountability measures after the SIU report was released? What accountability measures had been implemented against officials who had been implicated in the SIU report?

He had paid a visit to various technical high schools in KZN. What was the vacancy rate of technical teachers? The technical stream gave learners a tangible skill with which to enter the workforce. In Fairview Technical School, learners had been forced to change their technical streams in their final year of school due to teacher shortages. Was there any intervention to prevent this from happening again in the future? How could the Department attract more technical teachers?

He discussed the procurement of items. Had the procurement processes been strengthened to avoid situations where officials utilised the proceeds for their own benefit in the future?

He addressed the dropout rates. KZN had amongst the highest rate of student enrollments across the country. Were there any tracking and tracing strategies to ensure that students returned to school? If there were strategies, had they engaged the Department of Social Development and other colleges to prevent students from dropping out?

He disclosed that he had received allegations, accompanied by evidence, from a particular school that officials from the Department were selling teacher and principal posts, and influencing decisions. Could the Department comment on these allegations? Were they aware that this was happening?

He expressed disappointment with the Eastern Cape’s presentation. He claimed it did not give an accurate depiction of progress within the schools. He had recently sent someone to the schools mentioned in the presentation. Previously, the Department had committed to fixing particular toilets within three months, but the months had passed and those toilets still did not work. Money had been pumped into the school, but the bathrooms were still not functional. What was the reason for this?

He inquired about the delays in procurement, especially at the ET Thabane school, considering that the school was the only non-fee-paying school in that area. There were over 2 000 learners in the school. It already faced problems with overcrowding and had had to close its grade R block due to non-compliance. He asked how many ablution blocks had been installed at ET Thabane. As far as he knew, there were none. The photos in the presentation appeared to be misleading because those facilities were not at the school. When would the ablution facilities be installed?

He addressed the MEC and asked who was responsible for the procurement of LTSMs in the Eastern Cape. Was anyone held accountable because some schools were still without LTSMs, such as textbooks? This hindered the Department’s objective of access to education for all students. Furthermore, it exacerbated the already unequal access to education for students in predominantly rural areas. These students now had to catch up to the curriculum.  How many schools were still waiting for LTSM, and when would this be delivered?

He referred to slide 18 of the Eastern Cape’s presentation that addressed the overpayment of specific schools. What was the total cost of the overpayments? Would it be recovered?

The Chairperson commended the efforts of both presentations. It was evident that steps were being taken. She was interested in the robotics programmes in KZN. What were the broader challenges that these programmes were experiencing?

The presentation confirmed that learners’ transport issues in KZN had been improved. What were the criteria for evaluating these improvements? She asked what strategies KZN was using to improve their pass rates.

The Eastern Cape’s presentation had mentioned the challenge of keeping boys in schools or getting them to return to school after initiation processes. Although this was a personal family issue, the Department should encourage parents to send their boys to the mountains after they finish school, or convince them to return to school after initiation processes.

She was concerned about the number of students at the ET Thabane School. Was there any way to reduce these numbers?

Lastly, she addressed the issue of the non-payment of the education assistants. This was frequently in the media headlines. She urged the MEC in the Eastern Cape to have a media briefing to explain the delays to the public. The public believed that the education assistants had still not been paid. She suggested a deadline by the following Friday to complete this briefing.

KZN’s response

MEC Mshengu referred to the challenge of safety in schools in KZN and said that all the measures that the Department had put into place were insufficient to deter criminals from stealing and attacking learners, educators, and even security guards. He recalled a recent incident where three young learners had stormed a school, stolen students’ phones, and stabbed learners. That school had two security guards. The Department could not do more than what it already had in terms of resources. They now relied on the community to protect the school, with all the Department’s mechanisms in place.

He responded to questions regarding water supplies to schools in KZN. The Department was collaborating with all ten district municipalities. It had directly employed a service provider to provide water to all schools. However, there were challenges with these contracts in the form of questionable invoices and overcharges. This had resulted in disputes and the desire to move out of these arrangements with municipalities.  

He confirmed that the Department was following the recommendations from the SIU report. However, this was moving at a slow pace. Those implicated were undergoing disciplinary processes that were being conducted by people from outside of the Department, to ensure fairness. There were measures to ensure no further irregularities occurred in 2020 regarding COVID-19 procurements.

He wanted to contest a finding of the SIU’s report regarding the procurement of spray pumps to clean and sanitise the schools. The sector had decided on certain non-negotiables before reopening schools. One of these non-negotiables was that all schools should be cleaned and sanitised. KZN had decided that instead of outsourcing the responsibility, they would procure the material themselves and employ local people at a flat rate to clean the schools in the hope of saving money. The SUI report had not found any irregularities in the spending, just that the spray bottles should not have been bought because, according to an official in the Department of Health, they were not necessary. The official's role had been to ensure quality, not to prescribe what to buy. The SIU said the Department should have listened to that official, and not procured spray pumps. How was the Department then supposed to clean schools? He had met with the provincial head of the SIU, who informed him that the report was merely making recommendations. This decision was under legal review.

He responded to questions on the shortage of teachers for technical subjects. Thirteen new technological subjects had been introduced, and they were struggling to find teachers to fill these roles. The Department had found that some students who had received bursaries for science, technical, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects changed to other subjects when they reached the institutions. He stressed that the students who deviated along the way should not be prioritised.

He referred the questions regarding the selling of posts to the HOD to provide specifics. He claimed that these were primarily wild allegations. There had been instances of post reductions due to irregularities.

The previous year, an additional R10 million had been given to the province for transport. The new policy indicated that they would no longer transfer students to schools of choice. Ultimately the issue of learner transport would be solved by additional funding. Students in rural areas were in dire need of transportation.

HoD Ngcobo thanked the MEC for covering almost all of the questions. He wanted to elaborate on a couple of details. He confirmed that 3 543 schools had received water through collaboration with municipalities. However, the Department wanted to get out of these arrangements due to various challenges. They aimed to arrange for schools to have their own boreholes instead.

In response to the questions on robotics courses in schools, the main challenge had been COVID-19. The subjects had been introduced in 2020, right before the pandemic. Most of the resources and equipment for these courses were imported. The pandemic was global, so manufacturers had closed down. When the borders reopened, the demand was very high, delaying progress and pushing up prices. The Department was still working on resolving these issues.

He addressed queries on academic approvals and pass rate plans. Schools that were previously getting 0% pass rates, where no learners passed, had been eliminated, and schools that obtained a 100% pass rate were increased by implementing the academic improvement plan. These plans had been previously shared with the Members.

Eastern Cape's response

MEC Gade referred to safety in schools, and said the province was collaborating with the Department of Community Safety, which had ‘safe communities.’ A police officer should be attached to schools to respond to criminality. The sector could not address environmental crime on its own. Instead, different sectors should work together to address this issue. The Department had to procure fencing in hotspot areas, such as the northern areas of Port Elizabeth because gangsters were using schools as battlefields in townships. This was a comprehensive approach to save the lives of the learners and the employees. He welcomed advice from the council and other Members on further dealing with security issues.

The Department had tried to engage with communities on initiation programmes. However, the engagement had not been successful due to the stubbornness of the culture in some parts. Boys missed school for weeks or months during the initiation programmes. They had asked for a reduction in the number of boys attending initiations in grades 11 and 12. They were pleading with the stakeholders involved to allow the boys to go after finishing matric.

He blamed the delays in the procurement of LTSMs on a change in the procurement methodology. For the past six years, the Department had procured LTSMs manually, which had created accruals. A new approach, without the manual system, should be looked at. The Department wanted to engage the Treasury to look at a different model to ensure that they get the LTSMs without being subjected to the manual system. However, the Cabinet of the Eastern Cape had approved money for the Department to acquire LTSMs only on 20 December, which explained the delays. The Department was also at fault in planning and management, and its failure to prevent the hampering of institutional learning.  However, they had been able to ensure that almost all districts had received LTSMs in the Eastern Cape. The province had also experienced protests due to similar issues. There was a need for a serious policy discussion on the centralisation or decentralisation of the procurement of the LTSMs. It needed a scientific analysis in terms of the impact that it may have on curriculum management.

He also blamed the problems with the payments for education assistants on the methodology. Initially, they were paid via the Pastel system. At the beginning of November 2021, the Department had picked some worrying news that they were paying some deceased participants and others who had moved or were no longer part of the schools' establishments. They had then changed to paying schools via tranches. There were technical difficulties from the Provincial Treasurer. However, the schools were paid on 7 January 2022. Some schools were underpaid, while other schools were overpaid. Three officials involved in these errors had been suspended and had undergone disciplinary processes in response. According to the records, there was only one more payment due for February, and that would be paid on 8 March.

He said that the Department faced a plethora of infrastructural challenges. It was challenging to stop building contracts starting in the 2014/2015 financial year that were not yet finished. Projects that were over 60% completed were prioritised. This had created delays in other projects in the schools that some Members had visited. The delays were not due to disregard or disrespect for the Committee’s recommendations, but to ensure that government projects were still respected.

Mr Mbulelo Sogoni, Director-General of the Eastern Cape Department of Education, confirmed that the education assistants had been paid on 8 March and that payments would reflect in three days.

He referred to the comments on infrastructure at ET Thabane. The district manager had just informed them that the toilets were currently being installed. They would take photos and send them to the Chairperson to demonstrate the work.

Further information regarding the payment of education assistants or infrastructure would be sent to the Committee in writing.

Deputy Minister's comments

Deputy Minister Mhuale thanked both provinces for their efforts. She reiterated that safety in schools could be ensured only if all sectors worked together. The Department’s budget was very stressed and could not cater to any more issues. Other departments, such as the Department of Safety, also played a role in protecting schools. The facilities needed to be protected, but this was a complex matter due to there being so many schools. Schools were required to survive for more than one generation’s lifespan. She welcomed advice from the Committee on how to achieve this. She thanked the Committee for all their questions and for addressing possible blind spots.

Adoption of minutes

The minutes of the previous Portfolio Committee meeting were adopted.

The meeting was concluded.   




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