Vukile Tshwete Senior Secondary School in Qobo in the Eastern Cape is made entirely of wood. Entire panels are missing from the classroom “walls.” Learners must avoid the rain that drips from the ceiling, and try to hear their teacher above the howling of strong wind. The school has no library, science lab or sports field. In June 2016, Coega Development Corporation – a school infrastructure implementing agent – went to the school to make assessments for its rebuilding. Construction was meant to begin in the same year. But to date, Vukile Tshwete Secondary’s appearance has been altered only by a new fence.
Zanokhanyo Junior Secondary School in Butterworth has been in need of new classrooms since it suffered storm damaged in 2014. The school does not possess the plans for new classrooms, it has only had sight of them via Coega.
Equal Education’s Eastern Cape office has since 2014 visited numerous schools in which Coega, as the designated implementing agent, has failed to timeously fulfill its obligations.
Last Wednesday 18 October, Equalisers (learner members of EE) and EE staff picketed outside the Port Elizabeth and East London offices of Coega. Coega is one of eight implementing agents (IAs) that Eastern Cape Education HOD Themba Kojana has allocated the responsibility for building our schools and ensuring that they are safe and conducive environments for teaching and learning. Coega is a State-owned entity entrusted with public money to give both managerial and project implementation support to the Department to provide quality school infrastructure.
In 2016, EE visited 60 schools across seven districts in the Eastern Cape, investigating the government’s compliance with the Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure (Norms and Standards) – it’s legally binding commitment to fix all schools. We sought to ascertain the progress of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and ECDOE in addressing school infrastructure backlogs.
The Norms and Standards state that all public schools must have access to running water, electricity, and decent sanitation, and must not be made of inappropriate materials such as mud, wood, zinc or asbestos. In spite of the fact that it is nearing one year since the first deadline, schools in the Eastern Cape remain in crisis conditions.
Of the 60 schools that EE visited, 17 schools were entirely made of of inappropriate material with no access to water, electricity or sanitation. Of these 17 schools, 41% do not appear on any list for infrastructure upgrades. 46 of the 60 schools visited had at least one inappropriate structure. While every school had access to some form of water supply, an overwhelming 42 schools had access to water through rainwater harvesting alone. Toilets were routinely filthy. Absolute shortages and broken toilets frequently led to entire schools depending on two or three pit latrines. At one school, the ratio of learners to working toilets was 294:1. Of the 56 schools that had a grid connection, 14% did not have regular access to electricity.More than a third of schools with access to electricity did not have electricity throughout the school, with 11 schools (20% of those schools with access to grid electricity) only having power in the administration block and not in any classrooms.
The reasons for this are government’s poor community engagement on the school infrastructure law, its dependence on unreliable data, its growing underutilization of the available funding, the slow and irregular performance of implementing agents, and government’s poor planning and progress reporting.
State-owned Enterprises in South Africa play a significant role in the economy and the delivering of services to all citizens. Although, tasked to help improve the economic growth of the country, this has not occurred.
Implementing agents (IAs), whether they are State-owned entities like Coega and Independent Development Trust (IDT) or government departments such as the Department of Public Works, are entrusted with public money to give both managerial and project implementation support to education departments to provide quality school infrastructure.
IAs directly manage school projects allocated to them by the Head of Department. The failing of IAs begins with them using their own supply chain management and procurement processes. The procurement process deals with evaluating contractors and built environment professionals’ tender offers, as well as the administering of contracts. One way the ECDOE monitors this process is by delegating officials to serve on IAs procurement committees. These committees include the following: Bid Evaluation Committee which decides who is awarded the tender and the Bid Adjudication Committee which makes the final decision by evaluating the Bid Evaluation Committee’s decision. Unfortunately, it is not possible for civil society to monitor whether or not the ECDOE actually sits on these committees. From our research with IAs and the ECDOE, it is evident that they, in fact, do not.
Poor planning, inaccurate data, and the lack of capacity from both the national DBE and Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) have become the plague of provinces failing to spend money allocated to school infrastructure effectively.
According to a 2017 DBE presentation to Parliament, 252 of 574 posts linked to infrastructure delivery were vacant in PEDs entrusted with the responsibility of infrastructure budgets. This finding is a further indication of the lack of capacity that exists within government departments to deliver proper school infrastructure. The Eastern Cape is one of the provinces which has had difficulty in filling vacant posts.
After 1994, the ANC government inherited an education system with stark differences between well resourced (urban provinces) and poorly resourced (rural provinces) schools, deliberately used as a tool by the Apartheid government to separate white and black people. Since its establishment in 1994, organizational incompetence and slow progression towards transforming the department’s pre-existing Apartheid residue into the new democracy, continues to delay the fixing of schools in the province.
To hold IAs accountable, there needs to be a process of monitoring which projects they have been allocated by the DBE and PEDs, for what years, and for how much money. When provided with this information, civil society and school communities would be able to monitor the performance of IAs from year to year. Delayed projects and money wasted by IAs would consequently become easier to track. The Infrastructure Procurement Management Plans of PEDs, including the list of contractors who have been assigned to projects should be easily accessible to the public. This will allow for transparency and further force IAs to account for their underperformance.
The National Treasury’s Database of Restricted Suppliers is meant to identify IAs that are underperforming and bar them from being able to do business with the State. So far, regardless of evidence of underperformance of IAs, there hasn’t been an IA added on to the database.
What is evident in the underperformance of IAs is the impact on the lives of the poor, particularly the learners of the Eastern Cape.
Mila Kakaza is Equal Education’s Spokesperson, and Luzuko Sidimba is Head of Equal Education in the Eastern Cape