We're just not ready, education department says ahead of scheduled return to work

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga.
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga.
Image: Supplied

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga’s plan to have principals and other members of school management teams (SMTs) back at school on Monday has suffered a serious setback.

This after the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and an education district in Mpumalanga indicated they were not ready for staff to return.

Huge question marks hang over when Eastern Cape’s school management teams and teachers will resume duty after it emerged that National Treasury redirected the provincial education department’s order for personal protective equipment (PPE) to the provincial health department.

Bun Hopley, the provincial manager for the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools in the Eastern Cape, confirmed that during an urgent Zoom meeting with Eastern Cape education head of department Themba Kojana on Thursday afternoon they were informed that Treasury had withdrawn the department’s instruction note relating to the delivery of PPEs.

In a statement, Hopley said that this meant that the PPE orders placed with the Imperial company will no longer be delivered.

Kojana had indicated during the meeting that Treasury “has prioritised the health sector” in the province.

“The procurement sector of the department in the Eastern Cape under Marius Harmse has been doing follow-ups on their orders regularly with Imperial only to have this ‘bombshell’ dropped on them yesterday.”

This means that the procurement section have had to start from scratch, with the entire process of tenders which has effectively put them back by at least three weeks.

Hopley said that it was envisaged that the first orders of PPEs to be delivered to schools will only take place on May 29 — just days before grade 12 and 7 pupils were expected to return to class.

Principals and other members of school management teams countrywide were expected to return on May 11 while teachers were to resume duty on May 18.

A circuit manager in the Eastern Cape said the centralised procurement of PPEs by National Treasury was returned to the province to procure on their own.

He said that the return of workers to offices and SMTs to schools was postponed until further notice.

Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA, described the situation in Eastern Cape as “an absolute crisis”.

“We can understand that it’s not necessarily of the making of the province because Treasury has redirected the order, but what it does is call into question the ability to open any of the education facilities in the Eastern Cape on the dates set by the minister.”

Meanwhile, in a circular issued on Thursday, the head of department of the Northern Cape education department, G Pharasi, informed SMTs to report for duty on May 18 instead of May 11.

Teachers, who were scheduled to return on May 18, were told to report on May 25.

“My office has decided that we are presently unable to comply with our obligations for a safe and risk free working environment,” Pharasi said in the circular.

Members of SMTs in Mpumalanga’s Gert Sibande district were informed by senior officials in the district not to report for duty on May 11 as the “schools are not ready”.

The SMTs were told that they will be “duly informed” when to go back to school.

Western Cape’s head of department, Brian Schreuder, said in a circular on Thursday that limited staff, including members of SMTs, cleaning staff and non-teaching staff, will return on Monday to oversee the cleaning of the school and be available to receive hygiene and safety packs that have been ordered and were expected to be delivered to schools within the week.

“I will only allow further members of staff and learners to return on the designated dates if all the essential hygiene and safety equipment required have been received. This includes hand sanitisers and liquid soap, masks and digital, non-contact thermometers for screening.”

He said that as the numbers returning to a specific school were very low for next week, all staff will be able to maintain social distancing.

“Schools already have soap and cleaning materials to start cleaning and hand sanitisers are expected to be delivered early next week.”

He said that all staff returning next week will already be in possession of masks.

Schreuder said that the advice from the department of health was that schools did not need deep cleaning or sanitising as they have been closed for more than a month.


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