Lockdown communication reached a low point on Sunday evening when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga's much-postponed televised briefing was called off at the last minute. Remember, the back to school dates were published in a typically byzantine Government Gazette on 29 May. So, the legal position was that Grades 7 and 12 should return on 1 June. Yet Sunday headlines raised doubts about when schools would reopen. Never mind, we thought, the minister will clear this up. She didn't. Instead of another rambling speech, there was a low-fanfare media release announcing that no grades would be returning on Monday. This...
Lockdown communication reached a low point on Sunday evening when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga's much-postponed televised briefing was called off at the last minute.

Remember, the back to school dates were published in a typically byzantine Government Gazette on 29 May. So, the legal position was that Grades 7 and 12 should return on 1 June. Yet Sunday headlines raised doubts about when schools would reopen.

Never mind, we thought, the minister will clear this up. She didn't. Instead of another rambling speech, there was a low-fanfare media release announcing that no grades would be returning on Monday.

This information, important to hundreds of thousands of families, was slipped in unobtrusively by what veteran journalist Mandy Wiener describes as, "a barely accessible communications liaison team".

The statement seemed designed not to communicate. The most important information – the date on which "learners" should return – did not appear in the headline or in the first five paragraphs.

"What we have here is a failure to communicate," to a quote from the movie, Cool Hand Luke. Indeed, if Sunday was exam time, Motshekga and her support staff failed.

Poor, late communication has consequences. It can mess up people's lives. Parents had to scramble to make alternative childcare arrangements.

For what purpose? There is no chance that every school will be ready by the new 8 June deadline.

Rather than preparing to reopen, many schools regressed. At least 1,577 South African schools have been affected by vandalism, thefts and break-ins during lockdown.

As of 28 May, about 3,500 schools did not have adequate water. Up-to-date figures on pit toilets are contested, but in a June 2018 national government audit, 3,898 schools had pit latrines and no other toilets.

Motshekga, 64, knows these shortcomings. What has she done to overcome them since being appointed basic education minister in 2009? Not enough. Scandals during her massively funded 11 years include wide-scale nondelivery of books and multiple deaths of schoolchildren in pit toilets.

Blame apartheid and 26 years of neglect and corruption.

Another week of haggling is not going fix this.

Sunday's statement read: "This whole coming week must be used for the proper orientation and training of teachers, the mopping and ramping of all supply chain matters, and final touches to the readiness of each facility for the arrival of learners."

Was none of this attended to in the past 10 weeks? Can a department which repeatedly fails to deliver and has not used the lockdown productively, miraculously ensure that every state school has sufficient personal protective equipment within a week? Unlikely.

Must all schools stay closed because Motshekga and her department are consistently incompetent? This cannot be correct. Those which can safely open must be allowed to do so.

Motshekga fails and pupils pay the price


Martin Williams, DA councillor and former editor of The Citizen.

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