Angie Motshekga declares schools 'ready to restart'
Motshekga was addressing the National Council of Provinces yesterday on measures to manage the impact and spread of Covid-19 at schools.
“We are satisfied that the system is ready to restart amid the new Covid- 19-induced measures. We shall indeed overcome. As a nation, our resilience is legendary,” she said.
However, the reopening of schools for pupils other than those in matric and Grade 7 has been rejected by some school governing body (SGB) forums.
The Wentworth SGB forum yesterday still stood firm on its view that schools were not safe, and urged parents not to send children to school.
Chairperson Clint Leverton said the number of schools that had closed after the discovery of Covid-19 cases indicated that this was not the right time to reopen schools.
Ebrahim Houston, chairperson of the Merewent Extension SBG forum, which represents 36 schools, was also against the reopening. He suggested it may be safe to reopen after the flu season is over.
However, National School Governing Body Association chairperson Matakanye Matakanye encouraged parents to send their children to school.
“Schools cannot remain closed forever. Children need to be at school. As parents, we have to teach our children the importance of wearing their masks and maintaining physical distancing to protect themselves,” said Matakanye.
A large number of schools around the country closed just days after they were reopened for grades 7 and 12 after several teachers and pupils were found to test positive for the virus. Motshekga, however, said it was unlikely that the cases had originated at school.
She said her department understood the immediate threat the pandemic posed to teachers, pupils and broader society.
“We believe that teachers and pupils are members of various communities already battling the pandemic, thus they might have been exposed to the pandemic before schools reopened.
“In terms of the epidemiology of Covid-19, it is unlikely that the cases picked up at schools across the country originated from our facilities. These are classic community transmission cases,” she said.
Motshekga added that schools should prepare for the eventuality of community transmissions spreading, saying it was not a matter of if, but when.
She extended her condolences to the families of all the teachers, pupils and non-teaching staff who had died because of the pandemic.
“Your loss cuts through deep into our hearts as we know that the battle is far from over. Your untimely passing should galvanise us to strengthen our response and redouble our efforts as a nation,” said Motshekga.
Her department agreed with the health ministry that schools were the new frontiers in the war against the pandemic, she said, adding that reopened schools should be considered the epicentres of surveillance, screening, contact tracing and testing of cases that otherwise would have fallen through the cracks.