Picture: Moeletsi Mabe
Picture: Moeletsi Mabe

The Gauteng education department barely avoided a matric exams disaster following delays in the appointment of paper markers due to the provincial government’s buildings crisis.

Although the department has blamed the delays on a transition to an electronic system, employees told Business Day that days were lost when they were displaced following the evacuation of two buildings.

The department moved about 800 employees out of two office blocks in central Johannesburg after the buildings failed health and safety inspections following the Bank of Lisbon fire in which  three firefighters were killed in September.

This week the department almost  missed a Friday deadline to start marking papers for computer applications technology.  The exam was written on October 15, when the final exams started for  more than 150,000 pupils  in the province.

The exam directorate employees, who spoke to Business Day on condition of anonymity, said appointment letters to exam markers were sent only this week. The process was supposed to  have been concluded by the end of September when schools closed for holidays, according to the sources.

“The delay was because of bad planning by management. By this time letters were supposed to already be out, we would know how many markers we have. Letters are still not out,” said an employee.

The department will send  appointment letters to districts only on Friday.

“[The] introduction of a new electronic marker appointment system slightly had its own effect on delays,” said Gauteng education spokesperson Steve Mabona.

The department will still have to wait until all letters are received and the identified teachers indicate their availability before finalising the appointments.

“After the letters, that’s when people will say they are coming for marking. We have a screening process, invite examiners or chief markers — we also invite observers [unions] to come and observe if everything is going well.

“The work had to be done within a timeframe that we have now missed — by now we should know how many have accepted and how many have declined,” said the employee.

The workers have been at odds with the department’s management for weeks over the relocations, saying they were moved to far-flung offices, which caused logistical nightmares. Hundreds decided to camp outside the head office until space was allocated inside.

They had been complaining about the derelict state of the two privately owned buildings since the department took occupation in 2016.However, their pleas went unanswered until the Lisbon fire, which gutted several floors that housed government offices.

The department is  now awaiting the completion of refurbishments of the two buildings to determine whether to move back in or seek  alternative office space elsewhere.

Employees were moved from nine government buildings in the city in September, while national departments continue to face resistance from public servants who refuse to work in unsafe buildings. On Monday inspectors from the department of labour issued a prohibition notice on the department of health’s Pretoria head office for failing to meet health and safety standards.