For the first time since 1994, national government has invoked legislation and taken over the running of a provincial education department.
The Cabinet decided at its weekly meeting this week to use the Constitution to enable the national department of basic education to take control of the Eastern Cape provincial department, which has been racked by crises since schools reopened in January.
Speaking in East London on Thursday Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said that Cabinet had authorised her department to intervene.
“Cabinet directed that Section 100 of the Constitution be used in order to provide the required constitutional and legal authority for this intervention,” she said.
“Cabinet was of the view that this intervention, which is made in the spirit of co-operative governance, will pave the way for an immediate resolution to all pressing problems in education service delivery in the province,” Motshekga said.
Her spokesperson, Granville Whittle, told the Mail & Guardian that the department had intervened to assist provinces on many occasions, but this was the first time Section 100 had been invoked.
The takeover “implies constructive failure in the department”, said Martin Prew, director of the Centre for Education Policy Development. “While the big issues are teacher supply and demand, serious overspending and the cancellation of the school nutrition programme, the biggest is the very strong proof [this move provides] that the department can’t fulfil the mandate of educating Eastern Cape children.”
Since the start of the year the Eastern Cape education department has been plagued by such rampant dysfunctionality that in his State of the Nation address President Jacob Zuma warned that it would face central government intervention if it did not get its house in order.
Among the problems schoolchildren in the province faced when they returned to school in January were:
- Huge class sizes after the province lost 4 000 teachers whose contracts the department did not renew because it could not pay their salaries;
- Suspension of the school nutrition and scholar transport programmes, also because of lack of funds; and
- Difficulties in finding places in schools well into the second month of the school year.
Last week the Bisho High Court ruled that the 4 000 teachers should be allowed to return to their posts, but the department has filed an application for leave to appeal. The department has overspent its annual budget by more than R1,8-billion, BuaNews reported on Thursday.
Last year the department reached an out-of-court agreement with several schools in the Libode district which took the government to court for failing to provide them with access to basic resources such as desks, chairs, water and safe classrooms.
Panyaza Lesufi of the national basic education department told the M&G the department would do all it could to ensure a speedy resolution of the issues in the province, but no timeline could be provided at this stage.
“We will be working closely with education officials and officials from other departments in the province to assist in the recovery. We won’t be sending any people in physically, but will be closely overseeing the intervention,” he said.
“The parameters of the intervention still have to be determined, but our presence will be felt as soon as possible. The interests of learners cannot be postponed.”
Prew said that previous education ministers had sometimes threatened provinces with Section 100 — as Kader Asmal did in 2001, also in the Eastern Cape — but had not resorted to implementing it.