Dilapidated schools are education departments’ fault says Parliament committee

DA shadow education MEC 'horrified to discover the terrible state of the school infrastructure'.

A Johannesburg school remains in disrepair with 11 classrooms untouched after catching fire more than five years ago.
This was revealed by the DA during an oversight visit to the school by shadow education MEC Khume Ramulifho.
Burnt classroom at Riverlea High 2021

One of 11 burnt classrooms at Riverlea High School in Johannesburg.

This comes as the portfolio committee on basic education said the provincial education departments’ failure to ensure that implementing agents are held accountable for their projects has led to the inability of provincial education departments to deliver much needed infrastructure.

During the school visit on Wednesday, Ramulifho said he was horrified to discover the terrible state of the school infrastructure.
“Eleven classrooms were burnt down more than five years ago and while the department has been aware of this for the entire time, they have failed to fix and restore them,” he said.
“The school is deteriorating and even the gutters are falling apart. The toilets are flooded with water all over the floor and that tells you there are huge problems with infrastructure. I was also wondering why they have some of these conditions when they have people hired to maintain and clean the school.”
Class burnt down ini Riverlea

One of 11 classrooms burnt down five years ago at Riverlea High School in Johannesburg.

In Gauteng, a backlog in removing asbestos structures in schools, building of new classrooms and a slew of unmet infrastructure needs have pointed to problems of accountability. In 2019, a Vanderbijlpark school was stuck by tragedy after a collapsed walkway led to the death of three pupils.

Parliament made its recent assertions on the government’s failings following an infrastructure roundtable with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and all nine provincial education departments.

The portfolio committee on basic education resolved that the national Department of Basic Education and all provincial departments must strengthen and standardise their service level agreements. The department must also create a built-in penalty mechanism to hold implementing agents accountable for any delays in delivering infrastructure projects, it resolved.

“The incessant delays have an unwarranted and unacceptable impact on the mandate to deliver on the constitutional promise of quality education to all,” says committee chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba. The committee is of the view that having legally sound regulatory frameworks in place will ensure accountability.

“There is undoubtedly need for an increase in allocation to eradicate infrastructure backlogs, but this is difficult in the current environment. This is why we find it unacceptable that some provincial departments are not spending their budget. Also, the quality of work versus the money spent remains a concern that must be addressed,” she adds.

Lobby groups such as Equal Education have long documented the glaring gaps in the delivery of infrastructure in poorer provinces such as the Eastern Cape and Limpopo where, until recently, pit latrines were still widely used in public schools.

The committee asserted its awareness that in most provinces’ implementing agents are the provincial departments of public works, making it difficult to build in risk mechanisms to hold public works to account. This is why MPs support provinces that have decided to build internal capacity to ensure that they are able to implement projects at an acceptable rate and pace.