FOUR ferry boats bought by the provincial Education Department to ferry pupils who cross rivers and dams to get to school are decaying on the premises of the Sharks Board. The boats have been “dumped” there for about two years now and the department is yet to give an explanation as to why. Zanele Zulu African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - AS KwaZulu-Natal is battered by heavy rains, forcing schools to close early so children can get home safely, four boats bought to provide safe transport for pupils who cross rivers to and from school are rotting away in the parking lot of the Sharks Board.

The boats, worth more than R2 million, were bought by the provincial Education Department in 2017 after it found that pupils from more than 181 schools cross rivers and dams to get to class. A concerned resident tipped off the Daily News to the “waste of resources meant for the disadvantaged”.

“These four boats, emblazoned with the KZN Department of Education logo on their sides, were delivered to the parking lot of the Sharks Board about two years ago. They've never moved. Each has two outboard Yamaha engines completely exposed to the elements around the clock. This looks like a complete waste of money to me, but there might be a good explanation.

"Taxpayers’ money can’t be thrown down a bottomless pit when the funds could have been used to buy books or something that would serve disadvantaged children,” said the man.

KZN Education spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa said the department bought eight ferry boats to assist pupils to cross water to reach school.

He referred the Daily News to department head Dr Enoch Nzama for more details.

However, attempts to reach Nzama were unsuccessful. His phone rang unanswered and he did not reply to a message sent to his cellphone.

The Daily News understands that irregularities were identified when the boats were bought, leading to some officials being taken to task.

It is understood there were investigations and disciplinary processes, and that some of those implicated were appealing the outcomes of the process.

During his 2017/18 provincial budget vote, former Education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwana said: “We are proud to announce that on April 20 we officially launched the ferry boat programme at Nkovukeni (northern KZN) as another mode of learner transport. Provision of this mode of transport was informed by an audit which revealed that at least 181 schools have learners that cross rivers or dams on their way to school We are making every effort possible to ensure that this mode of learner transport is made available to all deserving schools.”

Thembeni kaMadlopha-Mthethwa, IFP spokesperson on education, said their parliamentary questions about the ferry boats had gone unanswered.

KaMadlopha-Mthethwa said the boats were not serving their intended purpose and it appeared that the department had not researched the terrain to be serviced before making the purchase.

“All this smacks of corruption. What deal did the department have with the service provider and were tender processes followed on this deal? Children who cross rivers to get to school have gone through a tough time during these heavy rains and no one seems to care. The sitting HOD must account for what’s happening in his department. It is for that reason that we will push ahead with demanding an explanation and answers to the manner in which these millions were spent,” she said.

Dr Imran Keeka, DA spokesperson on education, said the boat issue exposes “the right royal mess” in the Education Department.

He said a parliamentary reply to the DA last year revealed that all the boats were no longer operating. Three were stored at the Phumelela and Mafukuzela Gandhi circuit offices, and the Ndwedwe municipal offices.

“A recent oversight visit found that the other four boats were withering away at the Sharks Board. It is unacceptable that they are still sitting on dry land while some pupils at 181 schools could benefit from their use. This especially when we are experiencing unpredictable weather patterns that may result in rivers also being unpredictable.”

Daily News