By Valencia Talane
In November 2013 Corruption Watch reported on a case of bad service delivery at an Eastern Cape school that had no chairs or desks for its learners. In fact, according to the principal, the school had received no new furniture in the 23 years that she had been there.
For many years, learners at Macosa Junior Secondary School in Mqanduli had had to contend with makeshift desks and chairs. They would use anything from concrete blocks to empty two-litre drums and whatever was left of the old, broken chairs and desks.
For some learners, however, the tide has turned. “Soon after speaking to Corruption Watch last year, we got a number of desks,” principal Mrs Siko said. “Again at the beginning of the year we got chairs, but these were only enough for the junior learners.”
The school’s senior phase learners continue to wait their turn. Siko appreciates that her younger learners were prioritised, but acknowledges that the seniors also need proper infrastructure. Another crisis of the school, she says, is toilets for learners.
“The teachers also don’t have desks and chairs to work from.”
Of national importance
In his second State of the Nation Address (Sona) last month, President Jacob Zuma announced that a project to furnish Eastern Cape schools would soon roll out in the province. In the same breath, he mentioned that the office of the chief procurement officer (CPO) Kenneth Brown would oversee the tendering and procurement processes thereof.
“We have begun piloting this new approach with the centralised procurement of school furniture in the Eastern Cape,” said Zuma. “The furniture will be delivered in all Eastern Cape schools by the middle of August 2014.”
According to national treasury spokesperson Phumza Macanda, it was the Eastern Cape treasury office that approached the CPO for help with getting the required furniture to the schools.
“National treasury is working closely with the national department of basic education to ensure the delivery of this furniture timeously,” she explained.
But the first sign of trouble in the project has come in the form of the suspension of the head of the provincial education department, Mthunywa Ngonzo, last week. Education MEC Mandla Makupula suspended Ngonzo pending investigations into allegations of mismanagement in the schools furniture tender.
“The head of department is suspended pending investigations of allegations of mismanagement of the school furniture tender,” said education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani. “This was not an easy decision to reach, nor was it taken lightly.”
The SABC quoted Makupula as saying: "We are not saying the HoD is guilty, but allegations revolve around a matter of a school furniture tender. Part of the stability is to address the anomalies and allegations that are emerging."
Challenges in education
The Eastern Cape education department is no stranger to challenges. Along with Ngonzo’s suspension, Makupula announced the dismissal of 30 employees for charges ranging from fraud and corruption, gross negligence of duty and absenteeism, to sexual contact with pupils and alcohol abuse.
The MEC also recently scolded principals in several districts in the province for poor budgeting and planning practices, including failing to make room for the hiring of new teachers in schools that have acquired excess learners through merges.
“Some of these challenges are by and large caused by school principals because the principal who is about to receive learners for Grade 8 and Grade 9 says ‘I am ready, bring the kids’. But we have a condition – don’t take children if you are going to need scholar transport,” he said.
In 2012, the national education department took over the administration of the Eastern Cape department. Basic education minister Angie Motshekga said at the time teams from her department, public service and administration, national treasury, higher education, and justice and constitutional development decided on a process to implement the intervention.
For the furniture rollout project, Macanda told Corruption Watch, the treasury is confident that it will be able to meet the mid-August deadline mentioned by Zuma.