MEC red-faced over non-existent school hostel earmarked for refurbishment

A school earmarked for hostel refurbishment by education MEC Mandla Makupula does not exist.

In March, Makupula said in his 2017-18 policy budget speech that the hostel at Nomsa Frans High in Cradock would be refurbished under a R1.5-billion budget allocated to infrastructure projects.

The upgrades followed an award-winning exposé by the Daily Dispatch in 2012 which found that conditions in many school hostels in the Eastern Cape were worse than in prisons.

However, it turns out there is no Nomsa Frans High School.

This was revealed yesterday at a sitting in the provincial legislature in Bhisho where the portfolio committee on education tabled a report on its oversight visit to 14 school hostels between May 29 and June 2.

They met with department officials, school principals, school governing body members and school management teams.

Some of the schools visited included Aliwal North High, Burgersdorp High, Thubalethu High in Fort Beaufort and Mount Arthur Girls’ High in Lady Grey.

Portfolio committee chairman Fundile Gade said discovering that one school did not exist “leaves a bad taste to an already tainted province”.

“We are already known as the province of ghost teachers, ghost pupils and ghost schools, and now this. This needs to be investigated thoroughly, we must get to the bottom of it,” Gade said.

The UDM’s Thando Mpulu called it a “criminal act”.

“The time has come for honest conversation when it comes to the department of education. It is interesting to find that a school set to be refurbished does not even exist, that is a serious crime.

“There is criminal behaviour in this, because surely where there is a school that does not exist, there are pupils and teachers who do not exist,” said Mpulu.

ANC MPL Thando Ngcolomba called the finding “frustrating”.

“This leads us to believe that the department does not verify or someone deceived the MEC.”

Ngcolomba called for the matter to be investigated and “the necessary steps” taken.

Five priority hostels were initially identified for refurbishment last year: Thubalethu High School; Nomsa Frans High School; Riebeek East High School near Grahamstown; Makaula High School in Mount Frere; and Smuts Ndamase High School in Libode.

Later Clarkebury High and Healdtown High School were added to make seven schools.

In his policy budget speech, Makupula said these hostels were at different stages of development – three were under construction and four were undergoing design for construction in the 2017-18 financial year.

Responding to the finding, Makupula told about 40 MPLs, including two MECs, in the Bhisho legislature that it was true that the school did not exist, and he blamed this on an official whom he claimed let him use the incorrect wording in his speech.

“The word renovates gives the impression that the school already exists and for an official to let me use that word was wrong,” said Makupula.

Makupula said there were discussions on having a school built in Cradock and naming it after an informal settlement in the area called Nomsa Frans.

The MEC said he would follow up on this point.

The report also found a shortage of teachers and furniture, a lack of security, and high levels of teen pregnancies and substance abuse.

The DA’s Janey Cowley said the hostels visited were “not fit for human use”.

“The structures are dilapidated, ablution facilities are disgusting and at one hostel electricity wires are exposed and left dangling.”

Makupula, who accepted the report as “honest and fair”, was given 30 days to respond to the finding. —

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