Years after eradication deadline, 25 Gauteng schools still contain asbestos
The DA has criticised the Gauteng education department for appearing to move at a snail’s pace to eradicate asbestos structures in schools around the province.
If the asbestos structures become dilapidated, fibres are released into the air and, if inhaled, can cause deadly respiratory diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and cancer.
However, the education department said while there were delays in plans to overhaul asbestos-covered schools, they had solid plans and a budget of about R500m or the job.
“Our commitment to eradicate asbestos remains unshakeable. However, we must also forever condemn the apartheid government for using the lethal asbestos to build schools in our communities,” said department spokesperson Steve Mabona.
“Thus far, the department has set aside more than R473m to eliminate the remaining asbestos schools while awaiting more funds from the private market.”
The department said in the last few years it had removed asbestos from Oosrand Secondary School, Everest Primary School, Noordgesig Primary School and Paul Mosaka Primary School. Plans were under way for asbestos removal at Rust-Ter-Vaal High School in the Sedibeng district before the end of 2021.
About 25 schools in the province still contain asbestos.
“There are currently 17 schools in the planning phase and eight schools are in the implementation phase of our asbestos eradication programme, hence our commitment to eradicate these schools before the end of this political term,” said Mabona.
The political term ends in 2024.
TimesLIVE ran a series of articles in 2017 revealing that while only about 29 schools in the province were said to have structures with a predominance of asbestos, there were at least 215 other schools which had some asbestos.
In 2013, basic education minister Angie Motshekga signed the Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, which among other things gave a deadline of November 2016 for all schools made of inappropriate material — namely, mud, wood, metal or asbestos — to have been replaced.
DA MPL Khume Ramulifho said this week that the almost R500m the department spent on deep-cleaning Gauteng schools should have been used on asbestos removal projects instead.
Ramulifho said the delays in this showed education MEC Panyaza Lesufi was “not being serious about eradicating asbestos in Gauteng schools”.
The department is not serious about eradicating asbestos schools in the province and cares little about the health and safety of pupils and teachers.DA MP Khume Ramulifho
“Of these 25 asbestos schools identified, only two are in the construction phase while 10 are in the feasibility stage, six schools are in the inception stage, two schools are in the concept stage, three schools are in the design stage, one school is in the tender preparation stage and another one is in the retention stage,” said Ramulifho.
“This is the same number of schools MEC Lesufi provided to me in a reply over five years [ago] ... And the timeframe given has been changing — [the] initial target was 2016 and then moved to 2022 but now it has changed again,” said Ramulifho.
“This clearly indicates the department is not serious about eradicating asbestos schools in the province and cares little about the health and safety of pupils and teachers.”
Lesufi’s office said the delays were beyond their control.
“We must not ignore the fact that we lost almost a year of construction due to the effect of the coronavirus pandemic. It is a fact that the previous financial year (2020/21) was affected by this global pandemic which negatively impacted on all operations, including the infrastructure programme,” said Mabona.
“Accordingly, work procedures have had to be adjusted in alignment with lockdown levels, applicable disaster management and related regulations. The prevailing circumstances have meant the programme was implemented at a slower than expected pace and thus reduced the targeted outputs of the financial year.”
Mabona said the department received 102,000 new pupils who had migrated to the province and this had affected infrastructure expansion plans.
The DA wants the education department to commit to demolishing and rebuilding all asbestos schools with brick-and-mortar before the end of the current term of office.
The department said it was pulling out all the stops to ensure it delivered more schools faster and was maintaining the ones it had.