Western Cape Education Department (WCED) can learn a thing or two from working class women

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In fact, research by entities such as the Marks Foundation has shown that the old-age pension and even child support grants are used by recipients as a means to start and run a tuck-shop or small business in order to generate more income thereby making these limited funds stretch.

A friend recently recounted to me how as he was growing up, his father would come and hand over his meagre wages to his mother week after week. His mother would make the meagre wages stretch to feed him and his fourteen brothers and sisters. Not a single night went by where he or his siblings went to bed hungry.

This story though continues to resonate with many people living in the Western Cape and certainly South Africa. Often, research has shown us, large families continue to be dependent on the old-age pension provided by the state. Our aged have had to make the small amount they receive from the state work for them and their many dependents, frequently including adult children and their grandchildren.

In fact, research by entities such as the Marks Foundation has shown that the old-age pension and even child support grants are used by recipients as a means to start and run a tuck-shop or small business in order to generate more income thereby making these limited funds stretch.

This has been the story of many working-class and poor households. With a few resources and with very little at their disposal, working class women have had to make things work. If anything, it is a living argument about how grants do not make one dependent on the state but empower one to do more.

It was with these scenarios in mind that I read the piece of my colleague the DA’s Honourable Lorraine Botha MPL in the Cape Argus on Thursday 24 December 2020: “WCED has been calling to prioritise the adapting of the Provincial Equitable Share.”

While I would be one of the first to call for more resources to be allocated to the Western Cape from national government, it is my constitutional duty as well as that of the Honourable Botha’s, to ensure that the not so little that the WCED is already getting is being used wisely and correctly as our mothers and pensioners have done with their little income.

Let us be clear though. Education receives one of the largest chunks, if not the largest allocation, of the provincial budget. R25 billion is no small change, after this year’s unprecedented second adjustment budget, with an effective increase of over R16 million.

Hardly any other provincial department received such an increase in its adjustment budget. In fact, in the midst of a global pandemic, the provincial treasury cut the provincial health department’s budget by more than R759 million.

Yet when we look at the facts and see what the ANC led national government has only recently given to the Western Cape, particularly for education, after the adjustment budgets, we will notice the over R814 million from the Presidential Employment Initiative Programme for the employment of teacher assistants.

Hypothetically, if we were to agree with the Honourable Botha that the WCED was getting short changed and that the provincial equitable share should be increased, the question then becomes: is the WCED using the supposedly little that they are getting now effectively?

We have only to look at the Auditor-General’s latest report to assist us in answering this question and the answer to the question is a resounding: no! They are not using the supposedly little, though nearly R25 billion, effectively and efficiently.

In her second special and latest report, the new Auditor-General found that:

-The WCED selected a preferred supplier to procure over 2 600 cloth face masks to the tune of over R54 million, in contravention of National Treasury Instructions.

-Quoting from the AG’s report, “none of the schools visited maintained a PPE (personal protective equipment) register indicating the type of PPE received, issued and used.”

-The AG report, among others, continues: “one delivery note indicated that 206 containers of 25-litre each of multipurpose disinfectant had been delivered even though the school only received 10 such containers.”

Finally, the WCED uses public funds to exonerate former Model C schools, especially in the light of serious allegations of racism, then refuses to make public the reports of such public-funded investigations while targeting principals, at poorer schools, using departmental funds to persecute them.

The political leadership of the WCED, and seemingly their praise singers, can learn something from working-class and poor grannies and mothers who make the best of the little they have. With a little at their disposal, they learn how to be as frugal but efficient as possible.

Instead, what we have seen from the nearly R25 billion funded WCED is political mismanagement and publicly-funded persecution of those who dare to challenge them.

Muhammad Khalid Sayed MPL is the ANC spokesperson on education in the Western Cape Provincial Legislature as well as the Deputy Chief-Whip. He is also the outgoing Chairperson of the ANC Youth League in the Western Cape.