Special Investigating Unit to probe Eastern Cape education

On June 24 President Jacob Zuma signed a proclamation authorising the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to investigate what has been described as South Africa’s worst education department.

But sources question whether this latest intervention in the Eastern Cape will bring change to the real cause of the collapse: feeble leadership and the forces undermining it.

Read: A timeline of what happened in the Eastern Cape education department to warrant an investigation by the SIU

The SIU has been tasked with probing allegations that include serious maladministration, improper or unlawful conduct by employees, and unlawful appropriation or expenditure of public money by the department, the presidency said last week.

These problems have manifested in tender irregularities, unpaid teachers, vacant teacher posts, teacher strikes, fluctuating leadership, and court action over furniture, transport for scholars and inappropriate infrastructure. This situation has had a devastating effect on pupils, many of whom walk tens of kilometres to schools that are built of mud and have insufficient teachers.


The rot reached a destructive enough level to warrant several interventions and investigations, including a section 100 intervention in 2011 in which the basic education department took over the province’s administration.

The public protector looked into the failure to provide workbooks on time in 2012 and 2013, a problem caused by the lack of “functional co-ordination structures” in the province.

The auditor general’s 2014-2015 report said the department was being investigated by the police and the Hawks over irregularities in contract management for furniture and catering at school hostels.

But none of these actions has had a significant effect.

An attorney for the Grahamstown-based Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Cameron McConnachie, said Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s leadership in terms of her section 100 intervention “has gone unnoticed on the ground”.

“Of the six priority emergency areas Motshekga cited as reasons for intervening, only one – school nutrition – has seen significant improvement and that was not because of the intervention,” McConnachie told the Mail & Guardian.

“The other areas are still a shambles: scholar transport is in crisis, with thousands of children left out, thousands of teacher posts remain vacant, improving infrastructure and the eradication of mud schools is years behind schedule, and there is very little evidence of planning, accountability or financial management.” He said it was arguable that education in the province was the same or possibly worse than it was four years ago.

The LRC has at least four court actions against the department.

The education researcher for the Public Service Accountability Monitor, Zukiswa Kota, said the weak administrative systems of the department were “so pronounced as to have essentially proved resistant to national interventions and several high-level ‘turnaround’ strategies and the section 100 intervention is perhaps the best example of this”.

“While there were some pronounced changes, some of the fundamental problems persist, particularly those pertaining to financial management, personnel and leadership.”

She said, while the executive leadership in the form of the executive committee members remained stable, the relative instability in the post of the superintendent general “continues to pose administrative challenges for the department”.

In 2013 superintendent general Modidima Mannya walked out early on a three-year contract. Departmental head Mthunywa Ngonzo was suspended in the same year over allegations of mismanagement of a R46-million school furniture tender.

Problems created by a weak and unstable leadership were exacerbated by the “ongoing tensions between the South African Democratic Teachers Union and the department”, said Kota. It created “administrative tumult”, an example being the “initial welcome and subsequent ousting of the ‘corruption-busting’ Mannya”, but has resulted in delays at the expense of teaching and learning. She said no change would come because of “slow, delayed, weak disciplinary action that is neither effective in ensuring improved management nor enough of a deterrent”.

“Leaders like Mannya [who] have taken decisive action against fraud and corruption in the past [have received] inadequate support and even hostile responses.”

SIU spokesperson Ayanda Maki said the investigation would start when Zuma published the signed proclamation. “We are in the process of planning the investigation team, the approach and thereafter [we] will be able to advise of time frames.”

Neither the provincial nor national education departments responded to the M&G’s questions.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

Durban business raided as Transnet contracts face scrutiny

Contractors allegedly paid Transnet officials for lucrative procurement deals

The ANC’s clean-up mission is causing a standoff

ANC factions in several provinces are failing to abide by the dictates of the NEC’s decision that leaders who face corruption charges step aside from state and party posts

Level one loading: Almost back to normal

President Cyril Ramaphosa announces South Africa will move to level one of lockdown on September 20 after nearly six months of restrictions on movement, trade, learning and socialising

Illegal land sales head to court

Two state departments have done nothing about the sale of people’s land in Umnini by an inkosi –and R2.5-million has still not been accounted for

Amatola Water boss charged with organising protests

Amatola Water has charged its suspended chief executive, Vuyo Zitumane, for allegedly manipulating procurement processes and orchestrating protests against the board by the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) to disrupt Amatola’s operations
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Catholic NGO boss accused of racism and abuse in Sudan

The aid worker allegedly called his security guard a ‘slave’

Agrizzi too ill to be treated at Bara?

The alleged crook’s “health emergency” — if that is what it is — shows up the flaws, either in our health system or in our leadership as a whole

SANDF hid R200m expenditure on ‘Covid’ drug it can’t use

Military health officials are puzzled by the defence department importing a drug that has not been approved for treating coronavirus symptoms from Cuba
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday