Basic education minister Angie Motshekga gets tough on provincial governments not complying with Covid-19 health regulations. Picture: JAIRUS MMUTLE / GCIS
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga gets tough on provincial governments not complying with Covid-19 health regulations. Picture: JAIRUS MMUTLE / GCIS

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga has shifted the blame to the provinces for the shambles created by her department’s decision to postpone the reopening of schools to next Monday.

The minister conceded that some schools nationally were not ready and had failed to meet the safety and health requirements set by the government.

Parents, pupils, teachers and other stakeholders were left in the lurch on Sunday night when a scheduled media address by the minister was postponed to Monday. The minister's office said she was still consulting other stakeholders.

As a result of the uncertainty, most pupils stayed at home on Monday. Only teaching and non-teaching staff turned up at most schools.

But Western Cape schools and a few private schools reopened for learning on Monday. The Western Cape said it had met the government requirements to do so. The SA Human Rights Commission said on Monday it would move to have schools in the province, which is the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic in SA, close its doors and reopen with the others next Monday. 

The provincial department said it had spent R280m on protective equipment , including 2.4-million masks.

Addressing the media on Monday, Motshekga said: “Any further delays pose a serious threat to the system and the future our learners are yearning for.”  

“We are giving them this week to say they must deliver ... and there must be no school that operates when those PPEs [personal protective equipment] have not been delivered.”

Only Grade 12 and Grade 7 pupils will return next Monday in terms of the phased reopening. The department said this week must be used for the proper orientation and training of teachers, the mopping up and ramping up of all supply chain matters, and final touches to the readiness of each facility for the arrival of learners.

In a joint statement on Monday non government organisations, Section 27, Equal Education Law Centre and Equal Education, said: “If plans were implemented as they were intended to be, all schools should have been properly sanitised, and PPEs and the promised infrastructure ought to have been delivered in time for the reopening date determined by Motshekga.”

The organisations said the failure of the national department and most provincial education departments to comply with their undertakings and to meet their own deadlines mirrored their failure to provide textbooks, essential school infrastructure such as toilets and scholar transport.

“It is also undoubtedly frustrating for learners, school staff and caregivers who are already extremely anxious. We urge the [department] to engage in meaningful consultation with learners, school staff and caregivers, and to move expeditiously in ensuring that all deliveries occur at all schools.”

Godwin Khosa, CEO of the National Education Collaboration Trust (Nect), which submitted a report on school readiness to the department at the weekend, said on Monday the Gauteng and Western Cape provinces were flagged as largely ready to reopen schools on June 1. The Northern Cape, Free State, North West and Eastern Cape received a medium rating, while Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal were flagged as high-risk provinces.

In his weekly newsletter on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government was pulling out all the stops to ensure learning takes place under strict conditions when schools reopen.

Parents, teachers, governing bodies and the government agree that no school should reopen until all precautions are in place, said Ramaphosa. “There needs to be transparency about the level of preparedness of each of the schools,” he said.

“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.”

Teacher unions have called on all schools, even those that might be ready to reopen, not to welcome back learners until the non-negotiable commitments have been delivered to all schools and to inform their learners accordingly.

These included the fumigation and disinfection of schools; proper toilet facilities; observation of social distancing; reduction in class sizes; provision of water, soap, sanitisers and masks; and the screening of pupils, teachers and support personnel.

Motshekga said she agreed with unions that no school should reopen before the delivery of the protective equipment. “If there are no masks, sanitisers ... we are agreeing with unions they should not operate because it’s going to be risky.”

Teboho Joala from Rand Water said there were 3,126 schools across SA that are experiencing water challenges. Of the 3,126 affected schools, 756 were in the Eastern Cape, 87 (Free State), 1,125 (KZN), 475 (Limpopo), 248 (North West), and 435 (Mpumalanga). Rand Water is sending water tankers to the schools.