Write time‚ write place: A trip to the threshold of the Cape's matric exam vault

05 October 2018 - 14:55 By Aron Hyman
Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer outside the vault where the province’s matric exam papers are stored.
Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer outside the vault where the province’s matric exam papers are stored.
Image: Aron Hyman

Somewhere in the middle of Cape Town is a secret vault which holds at least part of the key to SA’s future.

Inside the unassuming grey building‚ behind a 15cm steel door‚ lies something that — when it is exposed to the outside world — could have eternal consequences for tens of thousands of people.

It’s not a weaponised strain of Marburg virus or a strategic nuclear weapon. It’s the papers for this year’s matric exams.

On Friday‚ TimesLIVE joined Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schäfer on an inspection of the vault. Officials working there are not allowed to be named or photographed “in case someone tries to put pressure on them” to leak an exam paper.

About 800‚000 papers will be dispatched from the vault in sealed containers bound for 457 exam centres throughout the province. There‚ they will be unleashed on 53‚759 full-time candidates and 12‚433 part-time candidates between October 15 and November 28.

There has only ever been one leak from the vault‚ involving a 2006 maths paper. But it was detected and stopped‚ and the culprit ended up in jail.

Staring through a gate resembling the bars of a prison cell at the piles of exam papers inside‚ Schäfer said not even she was allowed to enter — even though her daughters were now out of school.

And the security operation does not end when the papers leave the vault. The containers they travel in have locks that can only be opened remotely shortly before the exam is due to begin — an innovation in use only in the Western Cape.

“Ensuring the integrity of the National Senior Certificate examinations is of utmost importance to the Western Cape Education Department‚” said Schäfer.

“The vault... is under strict security surveillance to ensure that there are no possible leakages or irregularities.”

After her visit‚ Schäfer said she was impressed by what she had seen. “This is a huge logistical exercise that requires careful planning and tight management‚” she said.

“While we cannot always predict some extreme circumstances‚ I am confident that the Western Cape Education Department has made all the necessary arrangements to avoid‚ where possible‚ any irregularities.”