Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga delivered the department’s budget vote speech on Wednesday — emphasising the money constraints faced by the sector and the difficulties these pose to service delivery.
Motshekga pointed out that the basic education sector’s 2018/19 total budget represents only a one percent increase over the previous financial year’s total allocation. “In inflation-adjusted terms, this means that we are seeing a decline in the overall budget allocation for the basic education sector,” she said.
The department has come under fire in recent years for its slow delivery of safe school infrastructure, particularly in rural areas.
In March this year, Equal Education called for Motshekga’s dismissal, citing the minister’s failure to deliver on the 2013 Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure law, which sets out deadlines for fixing infrastructure in schools. It says that by November 29 2016, schools must have been provided with access to water, electricity and decent sanitation.
The organisation cited the tragic deaths of 5-year-olds Michael Komape and Lumka Mketwa — who both drowned in pit latrines while at school in 2014 and 2018 respectively — as evidence of the department’s, and by extension Motshekga’s, “broken promises” on the issue of school infrastructure.
Motshekga said that infrastructure delivery — which, she pointed out, continues to be funded through the Education Infrastructure Grant and the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative — is collectively funded at R11.4-billion in 2018/2019, a decrease of 44.8% from the 2017/18 allocations.
The minister listed infrastructure as a strategic focus area currently on the department’s radar.
“The fact that we had to face two fatalities, related to two grade R children drowning in pit latrines is lamentable, and could have been prevented,” she said. “We are mobilising all available resources, including the participation of the private sector and build industry professionals in our quest to heed the president’s call for a thorough audit of inappropriate sanitation facilities and the development of a costed plan.”
Motshekga added that budget cuts as well as the fact that provincial education departments have since stopped allocating funds for infrastructure delivery, will make it difficult to uphold the standards for school infrastructure. She added that pressures on infrastructure delivery “will require innovative funding strategies, including generous contributions from the private sector and South Africans”.
In the debate that followed Motshekga’s speech, the Democratic Alliance’s Ian Ollis said that it seems that “pit latrines are here to stay”. He accused the ANC of spending money that ought to be allocated to basic education on attempts to “plug the hole created at universities”.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi went on to accuse the ruling party, Motshekga and the DA in the Western Cape of failing to uphold the quality of education available to black and poor pupils.