Durban: Infrastructure development has been put on top of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education’s agenda after it was allocated more than R2.5 billion in the 2021/22 budget to build new schools, boreholes and repair damaged schools.
This was revealed by the MEC for Education Kwazi Mshengu when he delivered his budget vote yesterday.
Mshengu said budget cuts would also have a significant impact on the department’s work.
According to the department, the infrastructure budget would focus on key areas such as providing permanent ablution facilities to several needy schools, repairs to storm and flood-damaged schools and the provision of infrastructure for special schools.
The provision of additional classes to deal with overcrowding, completion of already existing projects, and construction and maintenance of Early Childhood Development schools would also be a priority.
Mshengu also made a commitment that in the current financial year, the department would deliver six new schools.
Out of the 4 898 pit toilets identified in the country during the audit conducted by the Department of Basic Education in April 2018, 1 377 were found to be in the province.
Mshengu said plans were already under way to eradicate the hazardous pit latrines that were still prevalent in some schools, especially those that were in remote areas.
“To this end, we can report that 410 pit latrines out of the 1 377 have since been eradicated. There are 526 (projects) under construction and due to be completed this financial year. There are also 171 projects which are in various stages including tender, evaluation and awarding for this financial year,” he said.
Furthermore, Mshengu said there were 381 borehole projects on the tender stage, ready to be awarded, with site handover scheduled for the current financial year. He said the department had installed boreholes in 133 schools, while 89 were in the design and planning phase.
Mshengu added that the budget cuts over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework meant that the available budget did not sufficiently cater for both filled and vacant personnel numbers on the system.
“The impact of the budget cuts of R6.3 billion will severely be felt by learners in the classroom. Because of these budget cuts, it is now a reality that we will have classrooms that will be left without educators; that schools will not be sufficiently supported by districts offices; that head office will not be able to effectively support the entire system.”
He also said the pace of building new schools, renovations and additions would be impaired.
“While we have introduced stringent cost-cutting measures – which include cutting off unnecessary and unapproved travelling of staff members; limited approved travelling kilometres to 1 750; capping KZN cars petrol cards to R3 000 a month; cutting on legal costs, proper management of staff leave and exit packages; and consolidation of small and non-viable schools – these measures will not fully mitigate against the impact of budget cuts.”
IFP KZN education spokesperson, Thembeni Madlopha-Mthethwa said they were hopeful that the allocated budget for infrastructure would also include schools that still had asbestos (roofing).
Madlopha-Mthethwa said it was concerning that some pupils and teachers were still using dilapidated mobile classrooms which were more than 10 years old.
“When is the department going to make permanent structures for these schools? The department should also use this grant to deal with the issue of pit latrines. The department committed itself to completely eradicate pit latrines by 2022, and we hope that they will be no more by then,” she said.
DA spokesperson for education Dr Imran Keeka, said the department had a tough job ahead as there were about 700 mud schools, over 600 with asbestos roofs and 79 structurally unstable schools in the province.
He said there was an urgent need for the department to refurbish storm-damaged schools and even the maintenance of district-level offices.
The chairperson of the Education Portfolio Committee, Linda Hlongwa-Madlala raised concern about the budget cuts, stating that it would have an impact on the functioning of the department.
Hlongwa-Madlala said some projects such as boreholes, teaching and learning, and migration of ECD programme would be affected.
The department received the lion’s share of the provincial budget as over R53bn was allocated, which is over 40% of the budget.
Over R44bn was allocated to public ordinary schools, R1.4bn to public special schools, R1.8bn to administration, and R1.6bn was allocated to examination and education-related services.
Early childhood development received R1.4bn, while R95.8 million was set aside for independent schools subsidies.