Tens of thousands of learners at 1 075 schools in the Eastern Cape are at risk of contracting life-threatening diseases because the Education Department has still not done anything to remove the carcinogenic asbestos from schools.
Education MEC Fundile Gade admits that asbestos can cause diseases such as asbestosis and asbestos-related cancer, but the Department is dragging its heels on eradicating it from schools.
In response to a parliamentary question, MEC Gade revealed that his department does not have an asbestos policy and has not even determined the amount required to replace the asbestos structures.
The MEC pleads poverty, saying the Department does not have the financial resources for the replacement and/or eradication of asbestos in schools, yet his department failed to spend R291,6 million of its infrastructure budget in the last financial year.
His argument that the removal of asbestos would be disruptive to learners shows a lack of foresight, as contractors could easily be deployed over recess periods to mitigate disruption.
While his department delays taking action, learners are at increasing risk as the general conditions of their schools deteriorate, increasing the chances of asbestos exposure.
The five worst-hit districts are Amatole with 328 schools, Buffalo City with 237 schools, Nelson Mandela Bay with 227 schools, Sarah Baartman with 100 schools and O R Tambo with 84 schools.
MEC Gade indicated the Department was engaging with Nelson Mandela University to establish an asbestos management plan, but that this would only be finalized for implementation in the 2023/24 financial year.
Kicking this problem down the road is playing Russian roulette with our children’s lives.
The DA is calling on MEC Gade to prioritise schools that contain asbestos structures for the health and safety of learners, teachers and staff.