“It’s no good just apologising because we need an action plan and time frames on how it’s going to be fixed.” — Bobby Stevenson

BASIC Education Minister Angie Motshekga yesterday offered her “sincere apologies” for the education crisis in the Eastern Cape and said she had sent a team of officials to help address the problems besetting the province.

But Motshekga’s apology received a lukewarm response from unions, interest groups and political parties.

Motshekga made the apology almost 10 days after she visited the province on a fact-finding mission to assess the state of education in the Eastern Cape, and pledged support where necessary.

Her visit, which found education in the province in “total disarray”, was sparked by the termination of temporary teacher contracts and the suspension of the scholar transport and nutrition programmes.

Then a court ruling last Friday ordered the national department to commit more than R8 billion to eradicating mud schools following an application on behalf of seven such facilities in the Eastern Cape.

In yesterday’s statement, Motshekga expressed “grave concerns” about the ongoing education crisis in the province and the delay in dealing with challenges negatively affecting schooling and the provincial department.

“The department would like to express sincere apologies for the hardship currently experienced by learners, parents and the entire school community,” the department said.

It said Motshekga had sent senior officials to assist provincial officials to deal with the problems.

A team of national officials were locked in meetings in East London yesterday afternoon.

Provincial department spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani would only confirm that MEC Mandla Makupula was in discussion with senior officials from the national department at the Education Leadership Institute offices at Stirling.

“We’ll only be able to respond at a later stage because the MEC is in a meeting with the national Education Department directorgeneral (Bobby Soobryan) discussing the issues contained in the statement by Minister Mot Pulumani said.

DA Legislature leader Bobby Stevenson said that education in the province was in a “shambolic state” mainly due to issues highlighted by the minister.

“A child has to walk to school, go hungry and end up without a teacher,” he said.

“It’s no good just apologising because we need an action plan and time frames on how it’s going to be fixed.”

Public Service Accountability Monitor spokesperson Derek Luyt said Motshekga’s apology was accepted. “We welcome her recognition that there are problems and it’s now time to deal with them,” he said. “We know what the problems are and it now simply requires people to do their jobs properly.”

Luyt said the provincial Education Department was not completely to blame, though.

“They have had budget and staff problems which they need to overcome and, hopefully, the national department will take long-term responsibility in assisting them.”

UDM’s Max Mhlati said Motshekga was justified in her intervention and apology because the provincial department fell under her control.

“What has happened in the Eastern Cape has tarnished the image of the Basic Education Department,” he said. “ Of all the provinces, none have experienced the problems as found in the Eastern Cape.”

Mhlati said while Motshekga’s intervention was welcomed, it remained to be seen whether her senior officials could turn things around.

“It is not the first time a delegation has been sent. It is the fourth time. They are to go back without addressing the problems because there are no systems in the Education Department of the Eastern Cape,” he added.

The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa also welcomed the assistance from the national department, but cautioned they would wait to see what happened “on the ground” first.

Cope spokesperson Nkosifikile Gqomo also welcomed the apology and said his party hoped it was not lip service from the ANC to blind people ahead of local government elections.

“We want to see things happen because all these shenanigans in that department happen at the expense of pupils,” Gqomo said. — mayibongwem@dispatch. andrews@dispatch.

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