No more delays as schools set to reopen
After last week's abortive attempt, kids go back tomorrow
After almost three months, most grade 7 and 12 pupils will finally head back to school tomorrow.
But despite a desperate last-minute scramble by the basic education department, some schools will remain closed, most of them because they lack water and proper sanitation.
The majority of teacher unions have agreed that schooling cannot be further delayed and that the more than 90% of schools that are ready should reopen.
However, the National Teachers' Union (Natu) says it is disappointed the department has been unable to ensure all schools can open tomorrow, saying many rural schools will be left behind.
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga spent several hours in a virtual meeting with unions and governing body associations yesterday afternoon to update them on the provinces' state of readiness to reopen.
The reopening is not without challenges. Among them are:
- It remains unclear whether all pupils in Mpumalanga will be returning, as some teachers were only expected back at work for the first time tomorrow;
- The South African Democratic Teachers' Union in the Free State said it had received reports of three schools being asked to accommodate teachers and learners from schools that are not ready to reopen;
- In North West, principals and governing bodies of more than 100 schools in one district questioned why people they had recommended should be hired as cleaners and screeners had not been appointed;
- In Gauteng, 67 schools will not be reopening, including 53 that have problems with water supply and sanitation; and
- Several schools in Phuthaditjhaba in the Free State do not have water.
It emerged after a virtual meeting between basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli and teacher unions on Thursday night that the South African National Defence Force is helping to transport water tanks to some schools.
In a television appearance last Monday, Teboho Joala, general manager for communication and stakeholder management at Rand Water, assured South Africans that by this weekend water supplies would be provided for 3,126 schools in six provinces that did not have any.
He confirmed the SANDF had transported water tanks to some schools in Limpopo.
Reliable sources said Rand Water would have met its water-supply promise for 95% of the 3,126 schools by today.
Originally, grade 7 and 12 pupils were to have returned to class a week ago but the department announced at the 11th hour that the return was being postponed because schools in some provinces had not received personal protection equipment.
There was confusion and uncertainty among parents last Sunday after Motshekga's much-anticipated announcement on the reopening of schools was postponed twice and then cancelled.
However, the Western Cape's education department did open schools last Monday, saying it had "pulled out all the stops to ensure that we are ready for the arrival of learners".
Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA, said while there were gaps, "we are at the point now where it is almost impossible to continually keep schools closed".
"There are many schools in provinces that are ready and we believe the time is right now to open the schools."
Manuel said, however, that the union still had concerns, especially around schools that were not ready to reopen.
"We need a plan for that, on how do we get them ready. There are still water issues," he said.
Manuel said there should also be a plan for pupils who find themselves in schools that are in such a bad state that they cannot be repaired in the short term. "They can't be forgotten."
National Association of School Governing Bodies general secretary Matakanye Matakanye said all schools should have reopened at the same time.
He said the governing bodies of schools in Phuthaditjhaba had complained about the lack of water in schools in the villages.
Frans Litabe, a former principal from Thaba-Bosiu in the Free State, said that by yesterday two of the four schools he visited in the area still did not have water.
Natu president Allen Thompson said the union was very disappointed the department "is taking forever to rectify conditions such as the lack of water and sanitation".
He said it was unfair for schools that were ready to reopen because "those in the rural areas will be left behind".
"Learners at schools in townships and rural areas will be writing the same exam and they are already far behind."
Paul Colditz, CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools, said he was confident all its 2,100 member schools would reopen tomorrow.
He said reports from provincial education MECs and heads of department indicated that 90% of schools were ready.
Several dozen principals in the North West, including three from Bojanala, are fuming because candidates they recommended to be appointed as cleaners and screeners following interviews by governing bodies were overlooked for appointment.
The Bojanala principals accused a senior official of corruption after the candidates they recommended did not make it onto the final list of appointments.
"Schools conducted the shortlisting process and called in the shortlisted candidates for interviews and sent through the names for appointment," one of the three said.
"All of a sudden they bring their people we do not know to be appointed. That is corruption at its best."
North West education department spokesperson Elias Malindi said governing bodies were given the powers to appoint cleaners and screeners.
"The department will conduct an investigation into cases where there are allegations of irregularities."
On Thursday, teacher unions and school governing body associations were left in bewilderment after Motshekga failed to log in for a scheduled virtual meeting.
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