The Eastern Cape education department will have to publish an admission that an earlier audit on shortages of furniture contained irregularities.
The Eastern Cape education department will have to admit in public that an audit it conducted in May this year on shortages of furniture in the province's government schools had "some irregularities".
As part of a court order, Judge Mandela Makaula granted at the Mthatha High Court in the Eastern Cape on Thursday, the department has to publish the notice in four widely read newspapers in the province and also broadcast it on the SABC's Xhosa radio station Umhlobo Wenene and the English commercial station, Algoa FM.
The department should also appoint within five days the Independent Development Trust, a development agency to "verify the respective schools' furniture needs".
But the order, to which the department and Legal Resources Centre (LRC) – representing eight applicants – agreed to without arguments, also compels the department to supply more than 47 000 pupils at 262 schools across the Libode district with furniture before the start of the 2014 school year. It also has to deliver within 90 days 1 593 desks and chairs to four schools that were co-applicants in the litigation.
The LRC brought the application in August seeking to get the department to conduct new and credible furniture audit and supply the desperately outstanding desks and chairs to schools.
A message the department has to transmit to the public via the print and broadcast media has already been scripted. "In order to ensure that the [department] comply with the order, we have been ordered to conduct an audit of furniture needs at every public school in the province. This was done in the first half of 2013. We recognise that there are some irregularities on the audit and it must be verified," the department will say.
"The [department] and the [national department of basic education] DBE must verify the furniture audit that already exists and provide the necessary furniture to schools."
Cameron McConnachie, an attorney at the LRC, told the Mail & Guardian the push to get the department to inform the public of the audit through the media was meant to "make sure they don’t stuff it up again".
The May audit was part of a court order the LRC secured late last year in another application that forced the department to deliver furniture to three schools. But the legal centre found it lacking credibility, and went back to court.
A number of schools that had pressing furniture discrepancies were not covered in the audit, McConnachie said. Some schools "still didn’t get into the audit list even after we wrote to the department" alerting it they faced shortages, he said. "The audit had loads of problems, really shocking major problems."
In its media statement on Thursday, the LRC said Gwebityala, Upper Mpako and Milton Dalasile high schools and Putuma junior secondary school, the four schools that should get desks within 90 days, "have all been plagued by severe furniture shortages for years".
"Despite repeatedly submitting furniture requests they were never included in [the department's] furniture audit."
Gwebityala, located in the Dutywa district, currently has desks and chairs just "for a handful of its 330 students and most press on their laps to write", the LRC said. "The arrival of 310 desk and chairs in terms of today's court order will literally get children off of the floor and into a desk where they will be ready to learn."
Thembelani Nqikwa, principal of Milton Dalasile high, told the M&G deep shortage of desks in his school rendered teaching "ineffective". With pupils sitting on the floor in overcrowded classrooms, teachers find it hard to move around, he said.
'Teaching does not happen'
Lack of furniture at Dalasile is so bad to an extent that teaching stops in other grades when matrics write exams. This is because the fewer desks in these grades have to be moved the matric exam venue, he said. "Teaching does not happen at all in these classes when grade 12 learners are writing."
In the application's founding affidavit, Ann Skelton of University of Pretoria's Centre for Child Law said: "Thousands of learners in the Eastern Cape do not have desks and chairs, and the absence of adequate furniture constitutes a significant impediment to effective learning."
The department has "not only failed to produce a legitimate audit recording the furniture needs of all public schools in the Eastern Cape, but they have failed to deliver the furniture needed by those schools that were recorded on the audit", she said.
"The absence of furniture in schools on such a large scale is a violation of learners' right to basic education."
The department’s spokesperson could not be reached for comment and had still not responded to the M&G’s questions at the time of publishing.