Covid-19: Education

KZN schools' opening in doubt as 60,000 pieces of PPE unaccounted for

07 June 2020 - 00:00 By ORRIN SINGH and ZIMASA MATIWANE
KZN education MEC Kwazi Mshengu.
KZN education MEC Kwazi Mshengu.
Image: Thuli Dlamini

Millions of rands worth of personal protection equipment has mysteriously gone missing in KwaZulu-Natal.

The equipment, some of which has suddenly reappeared, was meant for schools in the province.

Claims of theft and fraud surfaced after the provincial department of education said on Friday that about 60,000 pieces of equipment had disappeared. The equipment was destined for offices and schools in Umlazi, Pinetown and Zululand.

Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu said the department was investigating and that the opening of schools tomorrow was now an "elusive goal".

Mshengu later said the equipment had been delivered to two depots in Zululand but that a senior official had forgotten to record one delivery.

In a letter to the Zululand district director, which the Sunday Times has seen, the official "erroneously omitted" an invoice from one of the two depots. The invoice accounted for 80 boxes of masks. The official is said to have apologised for the "mistake".

Mshengu said the "mistake" would be addressed in the department's investigation.

He said the department was still investigating the outstanding stock of about 20,000 pieces of protective equipment meant for Pinetown and Umlazi. The missing equipment was not reported to the police.

"The legal services has advised that we wait for the outcomes of the investigation and any further action will be based on the outcomes and recommendations of the investigation," he said.

Nomarashiya Caluza, the KwaZulu-Natal secretary of the teachers' union Sadtu, said the department had told people involved about what had happened in Zululand.

Caluza said the union hoped the investigation would establish the facts and shed light on what happened.

She said she was still concerned about the missing equipment intended for Umlazi and Pinetown.

"There are three districts where [the equipment] was reported to have disappeared: Zululand, Umlazi and Pinetown. While it resurfaced in Zululand, there are no answers to what happened in the other two districts," said Caluza.

Thirona Moodley, the provincial CEO of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation, said it was not clear if the department had looked in the right places or if the equipment had been misplaced.

"In the initial statement it said the [equipment] went missing en route, so there are definitely conflicting statements. En route definitely means there was a deliberate act because it couldn't have been misplaced en route.

"I am hoping the department is transparent and open about this and that they will give us details upon the completion of their investigation, because this can't be allowed to happen, especially during a pandemic when [pieces of equipment] are such a valuable resource."

Moodley said it would be a miracle if the department got every school ready by tomorrow.

Mshengu told the Sunday Times on Friday that about 150 schools in the uMkhanyakude, uThukela and Zululand districts were struggling with the provision of water.

He said the department would deploy the defence force to help bring water to these regions.

"The discussions, which will take place over the weekend, will be around what we would do should these schools not have water by [tomorrow]," Mshengu told the Sunday Times.


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