Motshekga reads the riot act

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga has read the riot act to more than 100 of her top officials, warning them that none of them can take their jobs for granted.

The departmental bosberaad at Kievits Kroon Country Estate, north of Pretoria, on September 29, is interpreted as a sign that Motshekga is herself under intense pressure from the ANC and the presidency over the struggling school system.

It was attended by 105 department officials at director level and above.

Sources who attended the meeting said the minister told them “she won’t tolerate lazy individuals” and that she wanted “delivery and quality”.

The Mail & Guardian understands that the new department of basic education, created six months ago, is struggling to come up with a new organogram. The inherited set-up has been described as “dysfunctional” and a “mess”.

Motshekga’s bureaucracy has been criticised for failing to provide strong leadership in its key responsibility areas of policy direction and monitoring.

Concerns have also been raised from inside and outside the department about a lack of systems to track implementation, a lack of research depth to inform policies and inadequate coordination between the various departmental sections.

This week the department denied that it was not performing.

“The system is working well. We have received an unqualified audit report this year—a very good indicator that the necessary systems are in place and functioning properly—and the department received an award for being the best managed national government department,” spokesperson Granville Whittle said.

Motshekga’s hand has been strengthened by criticism emanating from Parliament’s basic education committee that the department’s performance is unsatisfactory.

Led by Fatima Chohan, the committee paid an unprecedented site visit to the department in August, following this by attending a departmental workshop for district officials last week.

Chohan was not available for comment, but Donald Smiles, a DA representative on the parliamentary committee, confirmed that the visits took place because, based on feedback from their constituencies, the committee was “generally unhappy about the department”.
Even within the department some officials believe a shake-up is needed. One, who asked not to be named, said: “The department is in a mess and some of us are going to hate her [Motshekga] for tackling it.”

Motshekga also knows that the department tops the watch list of Collins Chabane’s new performance, monitoring and evaluation ministry, which will release its performance indicators later this year.

At the Kievits Kroon gathering, education experts Nick Taylor and Bobby Soobrayan made presentations, with all chief directors present.

The main purpose was to debate the shape of a new department that can respond more effectively to problems. In sharp focus at the meeting was the urgent need to deal with the weaknesses of provincial departments in the delivery of education.

“This was Angie’s attempt to say: we need to do something dramatic in education, we need to do things differently. How do we structure the department to do that?” said one of the presenters.

Whittle also acknowledged that the split in the former department meant that changes “were inevitable”. He said: “We’re convinced that the splitting of the department will improve the efficiency of the system.”

Motshekga herself has come under fire from opposition parties for not being in “control” of her department because she wears too many political hats, including that of president of the ANC Women’s League.

Anele Mda, a Cope representative on the parliamentary committee, described the department as “dysfunctional”. Of particular concern were weak communications between the national and the provincial departments and local district offices and a lack of coordination between different sections of the national department.

“Even director general Duncan Hindle admitted that there are functional problems in the department,” Mda said.

Junita Kloppers-Lourens, another DA representative on the committee, said: “In August members of the portfolio committee were still new and the department put its best foot forward and we had a positive impression. But as we delved deeper we realised there were problems.”

During its August visit, committee members probed the department about its foundations for the learning campaign, launched early last year to improve basic skills at primary school level.

The department countered that schools had received the documents to implement the campaign. However, when members of the committee carried out their own survey of schools, they discovered they had not received the relevant documents.

“As a portfolio committee the department can expect that we will tackle them fearlessly,” Kloppers-Lourens said.

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