/ 13 May 2020

Very few believe provincial education departments are suddenly efficient

Pit Latrine
On Sunday, the Eastern Cape education department’s superintendent-general, Themba Konjane, issued an instruction that grades 3, 6, 11 and certain groups of learners in special needs schools will only return to school on July 20. (Madelene Cronjé)

It has been interesting to observe over the past weeks since Covid-19 came to our shores, how some people suddenly think that we live in a different country. Suddenly we live in a South Africa where everything is functioning well and all that kumbaya stuff.

Perhaps this illusion has been brought about by seeing our government actually working. Politicians are being forced to work hard for their money and all the cushy benefits that come with their positions. Perhaps that is why a certain MEC told us live on national television that “udikiwe” (I am fed up) because working hard was not what she signed up for.

We now see people who have been living in tents for years being provided with housing, communities that have been without water for decades suddenly having water tankers delivered to them. It is busy in the country. We are experiencing some of the service delivery that people have long been yearning for.

But we have also witnessed councillors being fingered for stealing food parcels meant for the poor, we have read of local municipalities spending money on inflated prices for sanitisers because, of course, some in the employ of the municipality will benefit from kickbacks. This then should be proof enough that we are not on some Wakanda planet but still in the same old South Africa, our land.

And so it should not be seen as unreasonable or too critical when people raise concerns about children returning to school, particularly those from rural and township schools.

Rightly so, people have raised important questions and refuse to believe the department of basic education when it says all measures will be put in place to adhere to safety regulations in order to combat the spread of Covid-19 in schools.

Why should people believe this when small children have died in pit latrines at school? It is not easy to trust what looks like a grand plan on paper when the reality is that there are schools with no proper sanitation or water, overcrowded classrooms and scholar transport buses, crumbling walls and leaking roofs that mean learners are sent home when it’s raining.

Parents, ordinary South Africans, are raising legitimate concerns that cannot be brushed off because the department says “we’ve got this”.

Ultimately, the national department will come up with plans and policies to guide the opening of schools,  however, it will be provinces that implement these at a school level. It will be the same provinces that have been forced by courts to deliver the most basic services such as furniture, books, enough teachers or build toilets … the list is endless. In fact, just last month the KwaZulu-Natal department of education released a draft policy on scholar transport just because Equal Education had taken them to court to do so. So it is quite difficult to suddenly believe that those provincial departments of education, which have been inept for so many years, have suddenly become effective because we have a Covid-19 crisis in the country.

A story by TimesLive this week alleges that it is only the Western Cape and Gauteng that are ready to receive learners in schools. It says it is these provinces that have ostensibly bought the necessary Covid-19 essentials such as sanitisers, masks etcetera. This is not surprising.  In fact, the Limpopo department of education released a statement on Sunday that the school management team must not report to school on Monday — as it was expected to — because it does not have all the necessary tools available. Unfortunately the provincial departments of education have not covered themselves in glory enough for us to believe what they say. In this case it is justifiable to be a doubting Thomas.