Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education’s already limited budget is facing massive cuts by the national Treasury, raising fears that less money will be dedicated to building much needed schools, paying salaries, providing security and training teachers.
The department is bracing itself for massive budget cuts in the next financial year that will see the department losing billions of rand.
All provincial departments are facing budget cuts as the government reins in spending to manage growing debt.
The budget cuts are set to start at 5% and would be implemented during the 2019-20 financial year, with the cuts set to increase to 6% and 7% respectively in the following two financial years.
Education, which boasts the lion’s share of the province’s R54 billion budget, would lose about R2.5bn in the first year. The cuts have sparked fears of job losses, with the department not ruling out retrenchments.
The move could have a negative impact on a department already struggling to meet some of its critical obligations due to budgetary constraints.
Chairperson of the education portfolio committee, Jomo Sibiya, said the department could not afford to lose a cent.
“We will ask the provincial legislature for exemption. If needs be, we will ask the legislature to reorganise the internal budget and for the money to come from other departments,” said Sibiya. He said they were preparing to fight attempts to retrench or not employ teachers.
“We have no areas to cut. We’re already lagging behind in infrastructure development. We can’t cut on teacher development because we need to constantly develop our teachers,” he said.
Chairperson of the finance portfolio committee, Sipho Nkosi, said they were told a month ago by Treasury that budget cuts would be implemented.
Nkosi said he had an informal talk with the education officials about the cuts.
“We’ll be meeting with all departments from next week to find out their preparations for these cuts. We will not accept a budget with a deficit.”
Nkosi said it would be difficult for the legislature to assist the department with funds, as the financial reserves in the province were depleted.
DA Education spokesperson Dr Imran Keeka said the cuts would be devastating. “The only place the department can cut is in the compensation of employees, and that could lead to the loss of 6900 teachers.”
Allen Thompson of the National Teachers’ Union (Natu) said they were against reducing the budget.
“Natu will mobilise other unions and members of the public to boycott such a move, as any reduction in the education budget will mean a further downgrade in the future of this country.”
Thirona Moodley of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa said the department was already experiencing severe funding shortfalls and could not cope with more cuts.
“This is depriving our teachers of the right to teach with dignity. How do you teach with dignity in a class of 80 people that was built to accommodate 40, when pupils have to share a textbook?”
Education Department spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said there was no function of the department that would be unaffected by the cuts.
“If you were given R45bn as a department and you point out that it’s not enough, but then it’s cut, that creates a problem.”
He said the decision to retrench teachers would only be taken nationally.
“For a long time, we had difficulty in filling office-based positions, and with this cut, that will slow down the recruitment process.”
Human rights organisation Equal Education released a statement last week in response to the mid-term budget presented by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, saying education deserved a bailout, in reference to the billions given to struggling state-owned enterprises.
It said the R26bn bailout for Eskom could eradicate the infrastructure backlog in the Eastern Cape, adding that the R5.5 bn for SAA could build 56000 toilets in Limpopo. The R3.2bn for the SABC could provide transport to 540000 pupils in KZN.