The Democratic Alliance (DA) is deeply concerned following an assurance by KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC, Kwazi Mshengu that this week’s “back to school” process in the province only saw a few “minor hiccups”. The comment comes as KZN Members of the Provincial Legislature (MPLs) conducted inspections at numerous schools around the province as part of school functionality oversight visits.
Certainly, the MEC’s remark is not in line with what the DA has witnessed over the past two days and merely highlights just how out of touch the province’s ANC-led government is with the situation on the ground.
During a visit to uMthaniya School in Weenen, the delegation found that the vast majority of educators were not present on the first day of the academic year. The few teachers who were there informed us that their colleagues had been absent since June last year. This prolonged truancy is allegedly the result of a dispute between union members and the Student Governing Body (SGB) which are so severe that the SGB chairperson was shot and killed at point blank range.
The situation at this school is extremely serious and it is not isolated. Certainly it is not a ‘minor hiccup’ and shows the chokehold that unions have on the KZN Department of Education (DoE) which is in turn having a devastating effect on learning and teaching almost everywhere in the province.
Our province has the potential to perform far better than last years’ real matric pass rate of 39.5%. But before this can happen, the unions’ stranglehold must be broken. This will require tough action from the MEC, rather than empty assurances.
The second major issue which the MEC seems to be ignoring is that of infrastructure. That it is crumbling was evident at most of the schools visited this week. Regrettably, this has been magnified by storm damage in the province, with an estimated 220 schools – including the more recent 81 – severely affected.
One such school is Zombiwe High in the Mkhanykude district. This school was hit by a storm in 2016. At the time, learners and educators were promised that the school would be rebuilt very soon. When nothing happened, learners went on the rampage, destroying park homes serving as temporary classrooms. The result has been a severe disruption to both learning and teaching, with the principal attributing the schools 10% drop in its matric pass rate from 94% to 84% to this disruption.
To make matters worse, on Monday MEC Mshengu stood before the province telling everyone that the first day would go off without any problems including at those schools that were storm-damaged. Yet, during a meeting held yesterday, the Premier confirmed to the DA and others present that it was only on Tuesday that he had met with MEC Mshengu and KZN Public Works MEC, Peggy Nkonyeni to put together a plan of action.
The vast majority of the 220 schools were destroyed as far back as 2016.
That this meeting only took place the day before school resumed is completely shocking. It is also indicative of an ANC-led provincial government that fails to deal with issues as they arise and which ignores matters even when they are raised consistently.
It is precisely due to the severe infrastructure problems that persist in our province that the DA, during the 2018/19 KZN Education Budget Vote, strongly opposed the budget on infrastructure and maintenance, calling for a division.
At the time we were severely criticised, with the MEC going so far as to label us as “racist”. Yet, the DA’s opposition to that portion of the budget was not simply due to the budgetary allocation. It was because we believed that not enough money had been allocated to this critical area. It was not being made a priority.
Today, it is the MEC who has egg on his face as KZN’s schools continue to struggle to operate under increasingly difficult conditions. It is also clear that despite the ANC allocating MPLs to constituencies across the province for the purpose of oversight, that they are sitting on their hands doing nothing.
The DA will, during the next few days, unpack the findings of this weeks’ school functionality visits. In addition, we will continue to assess any progress, or lack thereof, at KZN’s storm-damaged schools and will monitor any disruptions to the learning timetable as a result of this. This will take place by revisiting the schools which have been hardest hit.
The ANC-led government is letting our children down.
Through their own inaction they are ensuring that KZN’s learners continue to be denied the right to proper access to opportunities through education.