Hon. Speaker, Hon Premier, members of the executive, members of this House, officials from different Governmental Departments, dignitaries and invited guests. I solemnly greet you.
I stand before you today, a person privileged to be part of the 6th session of our Legislature, celebrating our democracy and freedom.
I use the word “freedom” very loosely. Not all of our people are indeed free. Many still feel trapped under a government that that still has the mammoth hurdle to overcome with regards to service delivery; keeping our communities safe; providing our children with quality education; and providing life altering and much needed services to women, children, the elderly and those in need.
But for now, let us focus on education, which the honourable Premier highlighted as being critical for our youth to be competitive in the labour market.
In his State of the Province Address on Friday, the Honourable Premier said an integral part of this administration’s plan was fixing the environment where teaching and learning takes place.
To quote the Premier: “Our hearts bleed when school children in our rural areas risk their lives to cross rivers, while some walk long distances to access the basic human right of education.”
Madam speaker I am glad the Premier admitted that the administration will not be able to address these challenges all at once.
I say this because when a question was posed to the then MEC for Education, Hon Mvoko, I was informed that in order to eliminate all the current infrastructure backlog and to align with the minimum uniform norms and standards for public school infrastructure, the department will need R62, 6 billion.
I am going to let that sink in…. Let me say it again, the department will need R62, 6 BILLION.
The target for eradication of infrastructure backlogs is linked to the 2030 NDP deadline, but based on the huge provincial infrastructure backlog, this would require the current average budget to increase from R1,5billion to R8 billion per annum.
Nationally almost 60% of schools comply with nationally determined minimum physical infrastructure standards. It is therefore quiet disheartening, Madam Speaker, that in the Eastern Cape just 42% of Eastern Cape schools meet the minimum standards.
In simple terms, this means that six out of every ten schools do not even meet the MINIMUM infrastructure standards.
After 25 years of democracy, our learners and teachers still face obstacles on a daily basis. Let me break down some of these obstacles for you:
1,598 schools still use pit toilets, affecting 458 147 learners in these schools.
197 schools do not have access to water
245 schools do not have access to electricity
4,700 schools do not have access to Wi-Fi
653 schools do not have access to a library
Madam Speaker, what good is giving a child a tablet computer and access to wifi, if we cannot provide that child with basic sanitation, water or electricity?
R794, 5 million was given to Public Works for Education Infrastructure Projects (EIPs), BUT the department required an amount of R985, 4million to complete allocated projects for 2018/19. This resulted in many a project not being completed. Once again, our learners and teachers suffered as a result of this.
With this being said, there was a total of R30, 7 million in outstanding invoices to contractors and consultants. You cannot expect someone to complete a project if they are not being paid to do so.
The Department needs to make drastic changes to their existing policies in order to at least try and keep their heads above water.
The department of public works should have officials on hand to attend to any minor issues reported by schools, and these issues should be attended to timeously. Materials should be supplied by the school, but the responsibility of implementation should be on the hands of public works.
We are all aware that the education system in our province is in need of a serious intervention in order to provide the quality of education our children are entitled to; and which they deserve.
Our teachers will have to play a pivotal role to fix a broken system. But for that to happen, our teachers will actually have to be present at their schools.
Sadly, this is not the reality in the Eastern Cape schools.
The province recorded the second highest percentage of teacher absenteeism in the country, with 12% of teachers marked absent daily. This means that of the 54 026 teachers in the Eastern Cape, an average of 6 483 are bunking school every day.
In order to manage the absenteeism of teachers, it is recommended that the Department look at implementing an electronic system to keep record, and that strict consequences are implemented against those who abuse their sick leave.
Madam Speaker, I want to briefly shift my focus to the Department of Social Development.
I am extremely concerned about the fact that, according to the Poverty Trends Report for 2006 to 2015, over 30 million people, or nearly 55% of the South African population, are living in poverty.
This is up from the 53% or 27 million people reported in 2011.
It would be interesting to know how, and if, the initiatives of the Department of Social Development in the Eastern Cape have made any positive changes to these dismal and frightening statistics.
The outcry from NGO’s in the province seem to go unheard. For years now, the Department of Social Development has been unable to timeously pay the NGO’s their subsidies in order for them to deliver crucial services to the destitute, vulnerable and those suffering abuse on a daily basis.
This government cannot allow this to continue. Our children, women and those crying out for social services, are being left to suffer under, what seems to be, an uncaring government failing the people of the Eastern Cape year after year.
Madam Speaker, on Friday the Premier spoke about consolidating the work that has been done with Early Childhood Development Centres.
As you are acutely aware our provincial education outcomes are in crisis, and our children are unable to carry out cognitive reading in grades 4 and 5.
One of the ways identified to address this crisis, is the support from Early Childhood Development Centres.
However, many of these facilities are run by “Good Samaritans” who carry out an invaluable service to prepare our children for formal education.
These facilities are facing significant challenges, however, as their funding is now being cut by the Department of Social Development due to non-compliance, even though they received funding in previous years.
The DSD now requires these ECD centres to be operated from formal structures.
You are very aware that many of this critical ECD facilities are operated in informal settlements where the operators themselves live in informal homes.
So how does the DSD expect them to operate ECD Centres from formal structures?
In the last financial year the DSD returned R22,67 million of the R56 million ECD grant allocated to it, making the province the worst preforming province in relation to ECD grants in the country.
For the past four years the Department has consistantly underspent funds on the Early Childhood Development sub-programme, with the last annual report showing an underspend of R25-million.
Madam Speaker, if the Premier is serious about consolidating the work done by these ECD centres, perhaps we should first focus on providing them with the necessary support and understanding the environment in which they operate.
The current criteria is excluding all children who come from poor families and who live in informal structures from any ECD exposure.
This will serve to further perpetuate inequality and disadvantage in previously disadvantaged communities.
I thank you