EASTERN CAPE’S UNSTABLE STATE OF AFFAIRS: BUSINESS DAY

Meddling and cadre deployment caused education crisis that led to national intervention by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, writes Sam Mkokeli

“THE department is not dealing with movie stars that will come back by popular demand,” Eastern Cape education MEC Stone Sizani said in 2001, as he faced public pressure to take back the sharp-shooting head of his department, Modidima Mannya, who had resigned in a huff.

Mr Sizani was wrong. Mr Mannya returned to the department as superintendent-general 10 years later, early last year.

The Eastern Cape education department is receiving assistance from Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga in getting the basics right.

This is not the first national intervention — the provincial department has been under the watch of Pretoria for most of its life.

On his return, Mr Mannya would have found things as bad as they were when he left in 2001.

But his return to the Eastern Cape has not been that of a movie star. He quickly fell out of favour with a teachers’ union for not extending the contracts of 2100 part-time teachers.

That upset teachers affiliated to the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), which went on a go-slow as pupils returned for a new school year this month. The province is the worst performer in matric results, where only one in two pupils passes their finals. The union has demanded Mr Mannya quit as he did in 2001.

Since its formation in 1994, the province’s education department has languished compared with other provinces. It has suffered years of stop-start political leadership, as MECs were replaced for various reasons.

The ANC has appointed a range of MECs since 1994 to turn the troubled department around — from a gymslip-wearing Nosimo Balindlela in 1994, to seasoned provincial politicians like Mr Sizani — but this has produced poor education results and bad financial management.

The department often overspends and, together with the province’s health department, this often results in overexpenditure of the overall provincial budget.

The province is also home to ghost teachers — some of them creations of crooked administrators who intercept the money meant to fund new teaching posts.

Democratic Alliance leader in the Eastern Cape legislature, Bobby Stevenson, says the department has had 10 administrative heads since 2000. In one instance, where politics got in the way of strategic vision, the ANC lured United Democratic Movement MP Philip Qokweni during the floor-crossing a decade ago. In a classic case of cadre deployment, he emerged in the Eastern Cape as head of department. He left after a short stint, leaving the department on its path to nowhere.

Mr Stevenson says the turnover at the top is a disgrace and is one of the factors that has “condemned children to a perpetual cycle of poverty because of inferior education”. Changing MECs and department heads created an “illusion” of change at the top, while things stayed bad on the ground.

Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi yesterday held a crisis meeting with Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kiviet to resolve tension between teachers and the government over Mr Mannya’s role. Mr Mannya became unpopular with the teachers following his measures to cut costs, which included letting go 2100 temporary teachers whose contracts were due to expire next month.

However, it was announced yesterday that a third of the teachers would be absorbed in other funded posts available in the department.

mkokelis@bdfm.co.za