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DA, EFF Overwhelmingly Opposed To Reopening Of Schools Amid Virus Surge, Absence Of PPE

NYAKALLO TEFU|

THE Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) are calling for the delay of the reopening of schools in South Africa, saying they were not convinced that all schools in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape are ready to commence with the new academic year.  

Oversight visits to several provinces by political parties and other interested parties have shown that many schools were not ready and posed danger to everyone because there are still shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), including poor sanitation and access to clean water.

Last week, the portfolio committee on basic education also visited schools in Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape, to assess the state of readiness for the reopening of schools, and raised concerns about the state of readiness, urging the national Department of Basic Education to redouble its efforts to ensure that everything was in place for the start of the year.

EFF KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Vusi Khoza said since last year the province has been experiencing challenges with the provision of PPEs in many rural schools, and the situation has not changed. 

“To date some rural schools in KwaZulu-Natal have been without enough PPE since last year and yet they are expected to be fully operational when schools reopen next week,” said Khoza. 

Khoza said the provincial department of education has not dealt with the readiness of schools in rural areas and this could expose many learners and teachers to various dangers, including contracting the deadly COVID-19 virus.

“We can never deny the fact that 70% of the province’s schools are situated in rural areas where having enough clean water and proper sanitation facilities is a luxury,” said Khoza. 

The EFF leader added that schools cannot be reopened because several teachers who died from COVID-19 complications have not yet been replaced in parts of the province.

Last week, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba said before schools reopen, the department needs to act urgently on issues relating to providing learner transport, provision of water and filling vacant positions.

The EFF said many teachers who died from COVID-19 in KwaZulu-Natal have not yet been replaced.

“The government has not even replaced teachers who lost their lives to Covid-19 and that could take more than six months, so a two to three month delay in the reopening of schools would be okay at this point,” said Khoza. 

DA spokesperson on basic education Baxolile Nodada said in KwaZulu-Natal, 120,000 pupils who are eligible for pupil transport do not have access to the state-funded transportation.

He said it was time for the basic education department to get its house in order to ensure schools can safely reopen on February 15.

“Many schools do not have proper or any access to clean water and sanitation. That this should still be a concern in 2021 is simply shocking. The world is suffering at the hands of a pandemic, the main defence against which is cleanliness,” he said.  

“Pupils and personnel do not have access to a basic human right that is their first line of defence against Covid-19. This is beyond shameful.”

He said infrastructure development in some schools in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal was woefully inadequate, with many classrooms built with dangerous materials like asbestos.

Some schools had been closed after they were deemed unsafe for pupils. There were also not enough classrooms in some schools, making social distancing impossible. Some schools were vandalised by communities.

The basic education department has denied it was not ready for reopening next week.

Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told TimesLive that while things may not be perfect due to inequalities in the country, this didn’t mean schools were not ready to reopen.

“Last June, the DA sang the same chorus that schools were not ready, but when schools reopened everything was in place. Not one pupil or teacher died after contracting Covid-19 at school. Those who did were mostly infected in communities. There is no crisis,” said Mhlanga.

(Source: INSIDE EDUCATION)

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