School students picket Coega offices
Equal Education says the development corporation has failed to deliver on its school programme
On Wednesday, members of Equal Education (EE) picketed outside the East London and Port Elizabeth offices of the Coega Development Corporation (Coega), one of the agencies responsible for building and upgrading schools in the Eastern Cape.
In East London, members of EE, together with children from Hector Petersen High School in King William’s Town and Vukile Tshwete Senior Secondary in Qobo-qobo, picketed outside the Coega office on Pearce Street.
In a statement, EE said Coega is one of eight implementing agents that the Eastern Cape Education Head of Department Themba Kojana made responsible for building schools.
Students held placards: “We are still using buckets” and “Have you forgotten about us?”
A grade 11 student from Hector Petersen High School, Milani Seyise, said the condition at his school is getting worse. “I have been there since 2013. The only change I have seen is the fence which was only done this year. The condition of the classes is getting worse. When it rains we all squash ourselves in one corner [of the class] to avoid getting wet.”
“We are here because we want better schools. We want what was promised to us – decent education in schools that we can work in,” said Seyise.
Ellias Gqeba of the school governing body at Vukile Tshwete Senior Secondary said they had been waiting since 1996 – 21 years – for a new school building.
“In 2015 they said they are going to build our school in May, but that did not happen. In 2016 they said the school is going to be build in June. Again this year we were waiting for our school to be build in May,” he said.
A grade 10 student from Vukile Tshwete High School, Siphelele Paqa, said, “The toilets are in bad conditions. The classrooms are cold because windows are broken and the walls are made out of wood.”
Simthandile Peter, a grade 10 learner from Vukile Tshwete, said, “Our studying conditions are very bad. I do not think any official from Coega can take their child to our school.”
Both these schools should have benefited from the Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure. A deadline was set for 29 November 2016 for the replacement of schools made of “inappropriate structures”, the provision of basic levels of water, sanitation and electricity to schools. The department did not meet the deadline.
EE demands in the memorandum that within 30 days Coega commits to provide temporary infrastructure solutions for all of the schools on its project list in which: infrastructure poses a threat to learners’ lives; there are insufficient toilets; there are unhygienic sanitation facilities. Coega must provide all principals of these schools with plans clearly explaining how it will provide temporary infrastructure.
In a statement, EE said the latest Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) report by the Auditor General “shows repeat findings for Coega’s non-compliance with legislation”. It further said: “When Coega procures contractors and professionals who cannot complete the job, fails to effectively oversee projects, and does not pay contractors on time, it is Coega which must answer to the Department of Basic Education and to the public.”
Thembeka Poswa, the programme director for education at Coega, accepted the memorandum. She said, “We will study the content of the memorandum and respond within the stipulated time frame.”
She said the department doesn’t tell Coega how long the school has been waiting when it assigns it a school. “A school might have been waiting or registered to be built for 16 years, but that doesn’t mean that we [Coega] have had the school for that [period],” said Poswa.
Equal Education Deputy Secretary Ntuthuzo Ndzomo said, “If you [Coega] do not respond on time then we will come with more numbers and make sure that we close the whole street.”
Simlindele Manqina, Communications and Stakeholder Relations for Coega, says it has successfully completed 585 projects (97% of school projects allocated to it by the Department).
From 2008 to 2014 it was allocated 225 school projects and completed all of them. In 2014/2015, it completed 103 of the 110 sanitation projects allocated it. In 2015/16, it completed 120 of 159 fencing projects, the remainder transferred to the following year “due to budget constraints”. In 2016/17 it completed 75 of 108 temporary classroom projects.
Manqina said Coega “has experienced a slow approval rate of projects allocation by the Department of Education in the Eastern Cape due to red tape, including delays in payments to SMME’s etc”.
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