‘Tenderpreneurs’ block the delivery of protective equipment to schools

The fight about who gets the tender to provide schools with personal protective equipment (PPE) has added to the delay of some schools receiving these Covid-19 essentials. 

This was revealed on Monday in a media briefing in Rustenburg, North West by the department of basic education. 

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga postponed a briefing on Sunday evening that was supposed to have addressed the readiness of schools to reopen, which had been expected to happen on Monday June 1. 

Instead, the department released a statement yesterday evening, saying that schools for grades seven and 12 will now open on June 8. Part of the reasoning for the decision was that three reports that Motshekga had received over the weekend had indicated that some schools were not ready to welcome learners, because they still had not received their protective equipment. 

One of the reports Motshekga referred to was from the consortium that she had previously announced she had appointed to monitor the state of readiness of schools. 

Godwin Khosa — the chief executive of the National Education Collaboration Trust, which co-ordinates the consortium — stated at the briefing that there were protests in some provinces by local suppliers who wanted to provide protective equipment at schools. He said these protests blocked the delivery of the protective equipment at schools. 

Basic education director general Mathanzima Mweli said the protests occurred in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape. He said the OR Tambo region of the Eastern Cape had experienced the lowest delivery level because of the protests, and that, by the weekend, the figures for delivery in that region stood at 18%. 

Shortage of supplies

Mweli said provinces had contracted local suppliers but, when they had failed to meet the deadline, they moved to suppliers who demonstrated the capacity to deliver on time. 

Khosa said some suppliers had a shortage of cloth masks, and that some of them did not have adequate stock or the ability to produce the products to meet the needs of the provinces. He added that some suppliers misrepresented their ability and capacity to supply the protective equipment.

“So you could expect that has had a knock-on effect on the case of the delivery of the PPE,” he said. 

Khosa sadded that one of the observations the consortium made in support of the conclusion that schools were not ready to open on Monday was that some schools had only enough protective equipment for the management team, and not teachers and learners. 

What schools will do this week

Motshekga said that this week would be used to get supplies to those schools that had still not received their protective equipment. Those that had received equipment should continue with the orientation of teachers on working in a Covid-19 environment, as well as familiarising them with the revised curriculum. 

In the statement on Sunday, the department said teachers were expected at school today. However, Motshekga emphasised at the briefing in Rustenburg that the teachers who should report to school are those whose schools have received the necessary Covid-19 essentials. 

In his weekly newsletter, President Cyril Ramaphosa said no school should reopen until all the necessary precautions are in place. 

“There needs to be transparency about the level of preparedness of each of the schools. Everyone who is a key role player, be they a parent, a school governing body member, a teacher or a government official, should be able to have the correct information about the state of preparedness of each school. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the learning environment is safe,” said Ramaphosa. 

Warnings from unions

For the past weeks, teachers unions have been saying that the system was not ready to open, because most schools were not safety compliant. Two surveys by five teachers unions revealed that most schools have not received protective equipment and that some schools had not been deep-cleaned. The teachers unions and school governing body associations have said that no teacher or learner should report to school if it is not safe to do so. 

In a joint statement on Monday, Equal Education, Section 27 and Equal Education Law said it was not surprising that the department of basic education and provincial departments had not met their own deadline to open schools. 

 “The failure of the department and provincial education departments to comply with their undertakings and meet their own deadlines in terms of preparing schools for reopening, unfortunately mirrors their ongoing failures to provide textbooks, essential school infrastructure like toilets, and scholar transport,” read the statement. 

Lack of water 

Teboho Joala of Rand Water, which is assisting the department in providing water in those schools that do not have it, said the organisation has to provide water to more than 3 000 schools in six provinces, excluding the Western Cape, Gauteng and the Northern Cape. 

He said these were schools that had water tanks but no place to draw water for the tanks and 2 634 schools that did not have water at all. 

The provinces with a dire need for water at schools are KwaZulu-Natal, with 1 125 schools; the Eastern Cape, with 756; Limpopo, with 475; and Mpumalanga with 435. 

Joale said progress had been made in providing water to these schools and he was adamant that by this weekend all these schools would have water. 

Underlying disease 

Another issue that teachers unions have raised — and criticised the department for not providing clarity on — is that of teachers with underlying illnesses. 

However, basic education director general Mweli said that over the weekend he signed a collective agreement about how the sector would deal with teachers with underlying conditions during this period. 

He added that heads of departments had seen the agreement and made their inputs, and that it was waiting for teachers unions to sign it. “It will be a protocol that determines the step-by-step processes of how teachers should go about dealing with comorbidities,” he said. 

Mweli and Motshekga said teachers with pre-existing medical conditions need to consult a doctor and obtain supporting documents stating that they cannot work in a Covid-19 environment. 

However, the department has not been clear about what should happen to learners with underlying issues; the only point it has noted in some of its documents is that learners who are sick must not come to school. 

On Monday, through a WhatsApp line, the Mail & Guardian asked for clarity on what should happen to learners with underlying issues and how their learning would be facilitated if they stay at home. The department did not answer the question. 

The Western Cape’s status 

Khosa told the briefing that, in terms of the data the consortium had received, it was Gauteng and the Western Cape that were largely ready to open schools. 

He said the Northern Cape, Free State, the North West and the Eastern Cape had a medium readiness rating. And the provinces that were rated with a high-risk, low-readiness level were Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. 

On Sunday evening, the Western Cape said that it was going ahead with reopening schools, even though Motshekga had said that schools must open only on June 8. In a statement, the province said it had done a lot to prepare for learners to come back to school and that it would be “unfair” not to go ahead with opening the school as planned, if its schools were ready. 

On Monday, Motshekga was asked about the province going ahead with opening schools even though she had released a national directive, but she did not respond to the question. 

In a joint statement on Sunday evening, five teachers unions said the attitude of the Western Cape must not be allowed. 

“South Africa is one country and their insistence to go it alone undermines the unitary nature of our education system. We are not only going to scrutinise but challenge their move. This is time to show solidarity with the plight of other provinces and indeed, sympathy with the plight of thousands of our teachers and children across the nation,” reads the statement. 

The department also failed to respond to questions by the M&G about when grade one and two learners are expected to return to school. In the Friday’s gazette, these grades do not appear under either the July 6 or August 3 dates, which is when other grades are expected back at school. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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