Top guns to fix Eastern Cape education

Lynn Williams, Zine George and Msindisi Fengu

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma announced yesterday he had appointed a team of top guns, including five government ministers, to take charge of the Eastern Cape’s beleaguered Education Department.

The dramatic move comes after the department was placed under national administration in February following the collapse of service delivery, the heavy-handed dismissal of thousands of temporary teachers, problems with the school nutrition programme, non-delivery of textbooks and stationery and the suspension of pupil transport.

The team comprises Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi.

Also on the team are five Eastern Cape MECs – Xoliswa Tom (Sport, Recreation Arts and Culture), Phumulo Masualle (Planning and Finance), Mcebisi Jonas (Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Toursim), Mlibo Qoboshiyane (Local Government and Traditional Affairs) and Mandla Makupula (Education).

Basic Education Ministry spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said due to the urgency of the intervention, the task team had already met and agreed to work closely together to deal with the challenges which had led to the intervention.

He said the ministries chosen as part of the team were those which had an aligned function to the Education Department and those which were committed to realising its goals.

“The president wants the Eastern Cape issues attended to as quickly as possible to bring stability and improve education. We want to restore the culture of learning and teaching,” Kodwa said.

Although Kodwa could not give time frames for the intervention, he said the team’s first priority would be to get the textbooks delivered to schools, get the transport system working again and resurrect the feeding scheme.

Zuma visited the province last month to assess the state of education soon after Motshekga signed a memorandum of understanding with the Eastern Cape Education Department setting out the details of an intervention.

National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) Eastern Cape chairperson Peter Duminy said they welcomed any effort to get the department’s administration back on track. “Once that area is made competent, other things will be able to fall into place,” he said.

Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools chief executive Paul Colditz said it seemed the department was on the brink of complete collapse, so they welcomed the intervention.

“Any intervention which could help improve the situation is needed and can work, provided those appointed actually do their job,” he said.

Motshekga announced last month she had taken all administrative powers from the provincial department by implementing Section 100(b) and appointed seasoned educationist Matanzima Mweli head of the department.

The department’s superintendent-general, Modidima Mannya, was effectively stripped off his powers, but refused to accept the “auxiliary” functions as an assistant to Mweli.

The scramble for control of the department between Mweli and Mannya has taken a number of turns since Motshekga’s announcement, with Mannya being defended by Makupula.

But Mweli warned department staff not to take instructions from anyone other than him. The parallel reporting lines caught departmental officials in limbo, with managers confused about who had the final say. Motshekga’s spokesperson, Panyaza Lesufi, said yesterday: “Powers to run the Eastern Cape Education Department remain with the minister [Motshekga].”

And she, “as the constitution permits, has delegated them to Mweli. And until another decision is pronounced, Mweli remains the accounting officer,” Lesufi said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of civil servants from the Education Department’s head office in Zwelitsha downed tools yesterday in support of Motshekga’s intervention. The disgruntled group of South African Democratic Teachers’ Union and National, Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union members went to Mweli’s office in East London.

They demanded that Mweli, who is housed at the fairly small East London offices, be relocated to the main office in Zwelitsha.

Staffers said their decision had come after several Sadtu leaders at the Zwelitsha offices were suspended for voicing their support for Motshekga’s intervention.

Mweli said later he was aware workers were at his office. “I’ve phoned the national office, and they are going to take a decision on this matter.”

He said his location in East London was based purely on availability of space.

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