In a time of anxiety and uncertainty, Angie Motshekga failed to provide leadership.
With news of schools reopening four months after the hard lockdown, more than 400 000 teachers, and about 13-million learners and their parents looked to Motshekga to offer decisive leadership.
But what transpired was chaos in the lead-up to grades seven and 12 going back to school. The department failed to communicate a clear and concise message to all its stakeholders, instead causing panic and confusion.
The one clear message that Motshekga communicated was that matric learners were going to write their exams. And indeed, these learners did sit for their exams. But even then, she kept changing her mind about who could write and when they could write, again failing to offer clear leadership.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian in 2018, Motshekga agreed that she had been complacent and had delayed acting when it came to infrastructure in schools, saying: “Aag, we are doing Asidi [Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative] and provinces will sort themselves out because it’s their competence and not ours.”
She also admitted then that, more than two decades after end apartheid ended, she could not fathom why there were still chools without toilets.
It is the competence of provincial departments of education to provide infrastructure in schools, but the nation looks to Motshekga when a child dies in pit latrine or when children have to bring their own water to school.
The Covid-19 pandemic further exposed how, even with the norms and standards for school infrastructure being made law in 2013, schools are still without the most basic of services. Last-minute scrambles ensued to provide water tanks to the 3 000 schools in the country that did not have water. Data on such shortages is still lacking, despite the department being forced to look at its own norms and standards.
Advocacy group Equal Education — which has been at the forefront of pushing for norms and standards for school infrastructure, and is the organisation that took Motshekga to court to force her to publish the norms — said recently that the department does not have sufficient accurate and accessible data to plan for improving infrastructure.
Six years after Michael Komape died in a pit latrine at a school — under the leadership of Motshekga as the basic education minister — there are schools that still use pit latrines.
Meanwhile, the auditor general has not provided a glowing report of the department for the 2019-20 financial year. According to the report, the department has weak internal controls, which have resulted in poor leadership, irregular expenditure and the negligence of its oversight bodies.
The auditor general found that the noncompliance at the department largely related to the quality of financial statements; the prevention of irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure; and the mismanagement of procurement and contracts.
For the 2019-20 financial year, wasteful and fruitless expenditure by the department increased to R83.973-million. And because of the contravention of supply-chain management regulations, irregular expenditure also increased, to R818.457-million.
The department has committed to participating in a workshop with the auditor general to strengthen its internal controls.