Update on infrastructure projects & plans to deal with infrastructure challenges: DBE briefing with Minister

NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

10 August 2022
Chairperson: Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary



The Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefed the Committee in a virtual meeting on the progress it was making with the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) and Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) projects.

The DBE stated that every Friday, it meets to review progress on the refurbishment projects at schools listed in each province. The challenge, however, was the inaccuracy of the list, since most provinces did not provide a precise number of schools that required refurbishment. It mentioned that maintenance budgets had been increased by 60%, enabling all provinces to fund refurbishments, renovations and the maintenance of school infrastructure.

During discussion, it was highlighted that many schools were in dire need of repair. The DBE acknowledged that many schools were in a bad state and dilapidated, as their upkeep had not been done for a very long time. A Member from the Northern Cape referred to the situation at the Hantam High School, where learners from Grades 10, 11 and 12 were attending school on a rotational basis, while others were waiting to hear about their catch-up plans at home, since the school could not accommodate all the students. The Committee also questioned the extent to which the Department monitored refurbishment work to ensure it was carried out to acceptable standards.

The Department responded that implementing agents were held responsible for shoddy work or failure to meet contract deadlines. It also mentioned how modern technology had been incorporated to speed up the completion process, including using WhatsApp for live updates. 

Meeting report

The Select Committee met virtually to receive a briefing from the Basic Education about the infrastructure challenges and progress on the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) and Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) projects that had been completed. Ms Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, was present.

The Chairperson commented that the task of the refurbishment of schools was huge. The letters sent by schools attested to that. The civil unrest in July 2021, together with the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) floods that took place earlier this year, had contributed to the damage to school infrastructure. The core of the meeting was to find out how far progress had been made, what the hindrances were, and the extent of the backlog.

Minister's opening remarks

Minister Motshekga said that while the infrastructure projects were moving swiftly, there was a challenge posed by the list of schools that had not initially been received as part of the schools which required intervention. As a Department, they worked with schools on the lists received from each province. A meeting took place every Friday morning at 7h00 to check progress of the projects that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) had on the ground. However, the problem of schools that were not on the list proved to be a major challenge. Although the DBE was working very hard with National Treasury, implementing infrastructure was not a DBE national competence.

The Department's task was to develop norms and standards according to the Education Act of South Africa. It was also mandated to monitor and support provinces. However, the inaccuracy of the lists of schools was proving to be a challenge, as it had to do with a list of infrastructure that was not initially for the DBE. There was the ASIDI programme, which was a special project which had been set up by former Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. The project aimed to eradicate unsafe infrastructure, which included mud schools and asbestos structures. Several schools had not met the criteria when the DBE started the project. As the project continued, the DBE discovered that there were schools not on the list that were appearing again as schools that needed to be attended.

While this was a national problem, the lists with the relevant information were being held at the provincial level. The DBE at the national level worked with information provided by the provinces. The majority of schools were in the Eastern Cape, as the DBE had received the longest list from that province. However, there had been incidents in the past where schools would be refurbished after an incident, and they would not be on the list of schools that needed assistance with infrastructure. For example, some schools in Limpopo did not form part of the list, but when the DBE learned about two deaths of learners, it had to intervene, even though the schools were not on the list.

The progress report made would be made available to the Select Committee.

The Minister said the DBE had decided -- especially after the COVID-19 disruptions -- to deal with the problems of overcrowding in schools. This was based not only on health factors, but the Department was aware of the negative impacts of overcrowding on teaching and learning. It was therefore requesting National Treasury to allocate a budget for the DBE to deal with this special project, in terms of which the DBE would deal with overcrowding in schools, as well as school maintenance, school buildings and so forth.

The DBE would also be reporting on its findings, as it was busy with monitoring. Some provinces relied on the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) to provide their infrastructure, while others, like the Free State, did their own. The DPWI did not report to the DBE, so the DBE was not necessarily able to monitor the work that it was doing.

Minister Motshekga concluded her opening remarks by thanking the Committee for the opportunity, and handed over to her team to deliver a presentation on the progress made.

Infrastructure overview

The Chairperson referred to an email that had been sent by the Committee to the Department which had not received an acknowledgement, and requested the DBE to attend to that after the meeting. He invited Mr Hubert Mweli, Director-General (DG), DBE, to give the presentation.

Mr David van der Westhuijzen, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Head of Infrastructure, DBE, said that he had received a call from the DG, and would continue with the presentation as the DG was travelling and had a network connectivity issue.

The DG interrupted to apologise profusely for the correspondence that had not been acknowledged. He said he would investigate and get back to the Chairperson within seven days.

Mr Van der Westhuijzen continued with the presentation after the DG’s remarks, and said the DBE was responsible for the planning and implementation of the following infrastructure programmes:

  • The Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) aimed to eradicate specific backlogs, such as dealing with mud structures and schools with no electricity.
  • Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE), whose purpose was to eradicate basic pit toilets. There was a special grant called the School Infrastructure Backlog Grant (SIBG), which was used for both the ASIDI and SAFE programmes.
  • The Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG), was implemented through provincial education infrastructure line functions.

The presentation included a problem statement from the National Development Plan (NDP), which indicated the need to “ensure that all schools meet minimum standards for infrastructure and commit to progressively upgrading each school’s infrastructure to meet the optimum standards." School infrastructure backlogs had been considerably reduced over the past ten years, but many school environments were still not conducive to learning. The DBE had committed itself to eradicate 496 inappropriate structures, providing basic water to 1 257 schools, providing basic sanitation to 868 schools and providing electricity to 878 schools in the 2012/13 financial year. To meet these commitments, the Department would have to find ways to deliver infrastructure and services more efficiently and cost-effectively, and improve the quality of information used for planning.

Mr Van der Westhuijzen discussed the baseline budget allocation for the SAFE project, and said a desktop study of school sanitation revealed that 3 989 schools still had inappropriate sanitation facilities (pit toilets). The schools most affected were located in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo, with others scattered all over the country.

A budget of R2.8 billion had been allocated for the SAFE initiative over the medium term expenditure period (MTEF), with R700 million allocated for 2019/20, R800 million for 2020/21, and R1.3 billion for R2021/22. The plan was to implement the SAFE programme through provincial education infrastructure grant projects, partnerships/donation projects, and the DBE's SAFE initiative allocation.

There had been some constraints noted, but the DBE infrastructure team had also produced remedial plans to overcome them. (See attached presentation for details).

The presentation highlighted the achievements and difficulties of both the SAFE and ASIDI projects, and also described the remedial procedures the DBE uses to address the problems that arise from these projects. The DBE mentioned that the use of modern technology for a variety of purposes, including communication, had assisted with the fast completion of projects. It highlighted that employing WhatsApp for real-time communication had significantly accelerated project completion. Each project's success had been aided by donors and partnerships with other departments, including Eskom and different water boards, among other entities. The contributions of all the key participants, including the school governing bodies (SGBs), school administrators and others, were acknowledged.


The Chairperson asked if, during the monitoring of projects, the DBE also monitored the quality of the work carried out. In the past, some infrastructure refurbishments had proved to be disappointing. He made an example of a building which had failed to survive strong winds soon after it was refurbished. He wanted to know how the DBE ensured quality was maintained by not allowing contractors to be “creative” and use cheap material. Was there a contract that bound the contracts to interventions should there be defects? What happened when contractors did not meet deadlines? In instances where the contractors did not perform appropriately, how did the DBE deal with those situations? Were there any clauses in the contracts to hold them accountable?

After a project was complete, the stakeholders were asked to sign to acknowledge its completion, but how did the DBE ensure that the stakeholders were not signing to acknowledge the project completion even though it had been done poorly? The dignity of learners and teachers should not be compromised through building infrastructure that was below standard.

The Chairperson asked the Members to indicate if they wished to ask questions, and said they could also send questions directly to the Committee Secretary to ask questions for their provinces.

Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) was the only Member to ask questions, which were based on the poor infrastructure at schools in the Northern Cape, many of which were in a dire state. At the Hantam High School, grades 10, 11 and 12 learners were currently attending school on a rotational basis due to few classes being declared safe. Grades 8 and 9 were not attending school at all. The Provincial Department had said that the district office would come up with a plan for the learners. Another school had been without electricity and was using R400 a day for petrol for the generator, which came from the school’s expenses. The learners had not received report cards for Term 2, mainly because the school did not have electricity. What was the DBE planning to do about infrastructure challenges at schools in the Hantam area?

A school in Kimberley did not have windows -- they were all broken. The infrastructure had not been fixed, and there were water leaks. Homevale High School was falling apart. Would the catch-up plans suffice? What was the DBE planning to do to bring stability to all these schools?

DBE's response

Mr Mweli said principal agents were used to assessing the quality of each project they were entrusted with overseeing. This helped with measuring the quality of the work carried out. There were checks for defects after the completion of each project. Any defect was then brought to the attention of the contractor. There was a retention amount which was kept for a specific time.

Responding to the question on contractors who were not adhering to deadlines, he said that in the contract with implementing agents -- in the memorandum of understanding (MoU) -- it was stated that there were penalties for contractors who did not adhere to specific timeframes. These penalties had not been applied for a very long time, as there was no need. However, since the appointment of the Head of Infrastructure, the penalties were being imposed and the DBE infrastructure team retained their management fees. When people were handing over a project with defects, the implementing agents were held accountable. There was a way to recover money that had to be used to repair the defects.

Mr Mweli told Ms Christians that he would take up the matter of the schools that she had mentioned. He promised to arrange an immediate meeting with the Head of Department (HOD) in the Northern Cape to bring some remedy to the schools in the Northern Cape, which were in a dire state.

The ASIDI and SAFE 2022/23 financial year were coming to end. That meant money would be distributed per province to deal with backlogs. For the first time this financial year, the DBE had decided to increase the amount for maintenance. Many schools were in a bad state and dilapidated, as their upkeep had not been attended to for a very long time. The grant framework allowed the DBE to increase maintenance fees by 60%. This included the renovation of schools and the schools that Ms Christians had referred to. A request would be made to the Northern Cape Department of Education to prioritise the schools, and the Committee would be provided with feedback on the actions taken.

Mr Van der Westhuijzen said that the design must be done properly in the first portion of quality control. Therefore, the implementing agent must appoint a competent architect/engineer. The names, qualifications and professional registrations were reviewed for each appointed engineer. The implementing agent was held accountable for any defect arising from poorly appointed architects/engineers,

In the second part, a construction company was appointed to be a contractor; if the work was not up to par, the company had to redo the work at its own expense. If at any point there was poor cooperation from the contractor, or the contractor refused to adhere to some contract instructions, the contract allowed for the termination of such contract. The DBE had terminated several contractors. Every contract had a contractual completion date or a contractual date for practical completion. The moment a contractor went beyond that date, there were penalties imposed. The DBE then calculated the penalties and would deduct them from their management fees.

At the moment, the DBE was getting good cooperation in that regard. In general, it withheld 10% of all payments as retention, which was released once completion had been achieved. If there were latent defects, such as in concrete slabs that during every point of completion looked good but then a year later start to crack up because the contractor had cheated on the level of reinforcement, those were called latent defects. For the next ten years, the DBE had cover for latent defects.

Once a project had reached practical completion, the use of the facility was then handed over to the school. The school then became responsible for the day-to-day operation and maintenance. The cover for latent defects remained as is, but the normal day-to-day maintenance belonged to the school.

Minister Motshekga thanked the DBE team for a wonderful presentation. The DBE team was excused.

Committee matters
The Committee adopted its minutes of 22 June.

The Committee adopted its report on Budget Vote 37: Sport, Arts and Culture.

The meeting was adjourned.





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