By ZINE GEORGE, ASANDA NINI and MALIBONGWE DAYIMANI
While an axe hovered over the head of Eastern Cape’s MEC for education, Mandla Makupula, last night, Makupula raised his own axe – over the heads of some of those in the Eastern Cape awarded bursaries for university.
He warned them they could have their bursaries withdrawn if they took part in Fees Must Fall protests.
There have been calls for premier Phumulo Masualle to fire Makupula for the Eastern Cape’s continuing matric woes – and Makupula himself said he wanted to quit, but did not want to disappoint the premier.
Last night, at a glitzy ceremony to honour the province’s top performing matriculants, Makupula warned that those intending to study at university this year through the MEC bursary scheme would have their R100 000 full-house bursaries revoked if they joined the Fees Must Fall movement.
Speaking to the Dispatch during a break, he said: “My office will cover everything for the students for as long as the students continue to pass. But if they go there to play, like joining this thing of Fees Must Fall, then we will cut the bursary.” He said the movement and its demonstrations were a factor in student failures at higher learning institutions.
Earlier, the MEC said he had considered resigning following the poor performance of the province’s 2016 matric class. This followed the announcement Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga made on Wednesday that the province remained at the bottom of matric class for the seventh time, as it registered a 59.3% pass rate.
This is far below the national average of 72%, and it is the only province that fell below the 60% mark.
Explaining that he did not want to disappoint Masualle by resigning, Makupula said: “It is the premier of the province who gives us responsibilities [to be MECs]. I’m a teacher by profession, but the ruling party saw something in me…they have never even told me what it is.
“After winning an election, you receive a phone call and they tell you you are going to be MEC. You comply and complain later.”
The results show that the province had improved by 2.5 percentage points compared with 2015, and produced 363 more passes that enable pupils to register for a university degree.
In 2015, only 15291 matrics passed with university entrance, compared with this year’s 15654.
Two of the province’s matrics were among the country’s top 20 performers – Siphokazi Hlalukana of Holy Cross High in Mthatha, and Anelisa Marwanqana of Mariazell Secondary School in Matatiele (See page 4).
But the performance of individual districts in the province confirms all is not well at some of them, as five of those listed as the worst performers in South Africa are in the Eastern Cape.
They are Lusikisiki, which managed to achieve a pass rate of only 44.7%, Ngcobo 47.2%, Libode (47.9%), Dutywa (49.5%) and Lady Frere (49.5%).
Two Eastern Cape schools recorded no passes – Msobomvu High School in East London and Middle Zolo Senior Secondary in Cofimvaba.
Last year the department failed to spend more than R500-million earmarked for school infrastructure.
This despite some schools not having desks and other learner support material, while at others pupils studied in unsafe school buildings.
Reacting to the reports, the Congress of South African Students (Cosas), an ANC-aligned pupils’ organisation, yesterday accused Masualle of failing to hold Makupula to account.
Cosas provincial secretary, Samkele Mqai said: “We wish to express our disappointment with the premier for continually failing to hold the MEC accountable for as to what went wrong…we have not reached the target of 70% that was set in 2014.”
The department set the target of a 70% pass rate last year, after the pass rate had dropped to 56.8%.
“Up until now, the MEC has not been held accountable,” said Mqai.
But Makupula defended his office, saying there had been several positive developments in the department since he took over in November 2010.
These included the fact there had been no major strike by a union since he took over as MEC, and that the department’s books had moved from a disclaimer of opinion to qualified findings in three consecutive years.
“This may not be a clean slate, but we are turning the corner,” he said.
The DA’s shadow MEC for education, Edmund van Vuuren said his party welcomed the slight improvement, but added: “There is no cause for celebration because we are the worst-performing province, with five worst-performing districts, each obtaining less than 50%.”
ANC MPL and the Eastern Cape legislature’s education portfolio committee chairman, Fundile Gade said his committee had mixed feelings.
“We derive joy from the fact that we are on an upward [curve]. However, we are not pleased that some of the challenges were left until very late, challenges such as the permanent appointment of an HoD and the cleansing of the department’s systems.”
UDM MPL Thando Mpulu welcomed the improvement in the pass rate.
However, he was disappointed the province did not meet its 70% target. “You will note that the worst performers come from areas that are very disadvantaged, and something needs to be done about that.”
SACP provincial spokesman Siya Mdodi said the results “reflect our deep-seated structural and systemic challenges, imposed upon us by…apartheid colonial spatial planning… intended to sustain the Eastern Cape as the reservoir of cheap labour”.