Johannesburg - Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga could again be dragged before the courts for failing to provide basic amenities to schools, following years of promises and legal wrangling.
Tuesday is the deadline for the Department of Basic Education to meet the norms and standards for school infrastructure provision, but few of the nine provincial departments look set to meet the target.
The norms and standards are legally binding, and all the provinces were required to meet the three-year deadline, stipulating that all schools have water, sanitation and electricity. Schools made from asbestos, wood and other makeshift material should be eradicated.
Another deadline - set for seven years - includes electronic connectivity and the installation of security around schools. All schools should have libraries and laboratories in 10 years, and sports fields and walkways should be provided by 2017.
Motshekga published the norms and standards in 2013 but provincial departments have failed to meet the targets.
Equal Education (EE), which has for five years lobbied and protested to force the department to ensure schools were safe and habitable, is not taking the matter lying down. It has vowed to take legal action against Motshekga.
EE Law Centre attorney Lisa Draga said they were compiling their final affidavits.
“She (Motshekga) has to be held responsible because government departments are mandated to work together... She cannot want to now cut these (departments) into pieces (just) so she can’t be held responsible,” Draga said.
After attempting to meet Motshekga for two years to change some of the regulations, the EE Law Centre in May launched an application in the Bhisho High Court asking her to fix the issues with the provisions.
These include the fact that she could be held responsible if other departments, like Public Works, or those who supply water and electricity don’t deliver.
“If we don’t agree on the issues, we will then hear the case in court. The failure (to meet targets) is evidence of a lack of accountability, planning and oversight. And this is what the litigation seeks to prove.”
The lobby group said the norms and standards were not good enough, especially because Motshekga included a law in the policy that she cannot be held accountable if other departments, such as Public Works, or those supplying water and electricity don’t assist.
Two weeks ago, Motshekga said the department was working hard to address backlogs in infrastructure. She said by in October 2014, about 475 schools across the country without sanitation were identified.
Out of these, 408 were provided with sanitation by the end of September 2016. And out of the nine provinces, the minister said, seven had achieved the three-year target to have water and sanitation.
“Only two provinces will not achieve the targets. However, there are implementation plans, and the projects are at different stages of implementation to address the shortfall.
“One of the challenges identified is the rationalisation and school-merger processes which are taking place, where some schools have been identified for merger and others for closure,” she said.
But this is little consolation for the thousands of pupils who attend classes in makeshift classrooms, schools with no running water or have no ablution facilities.
The department’s 2015 national statistics paint a bleak picture on the state of schools. The figures show that 452 schools are without electricity and 913 without water. There are also another 4 773 schools with unreliable water supply and 2 854 with unreliable electricity supply, while 10 419 schools still use pit latrines.
EE’s head Tshepo Motsepe said of the department’s failure to meet the deadlines: “It is a lack of political will and of capacity that has brought us here; politicians and public servants failed to meet the first deadline stipulated by the norms and standards for school Infrastructure.
“As an example, the Limpopo Education Department’s infrastructure plan states repeatedly that it will not meet the first deadline for infrastructure implementation. It even states that it will fail to meet the final, 2030 deadlines stipulated by the norms and standards.”
EE wants Motshekga to release a progress report from each province on infrastructure. Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said this would be done on Monday.