Education, health top E-Cape priorities

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bisho – Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kiviet used her State of the Province Address on Friday to reflect on what her administration has achieved over the past year, placing emphasis on education, health and infrastructure development.

Financially, the Eastern Cape Education Department has had one crisis after another in recent years leading to large-scale interventions by the national government. In 2011, Pretoria placed the department under administration following reports that it had over-spent by more than R2 billion.

But in a speech delivered at a packed marquee, adjacent to the Provincial Legislature in Bisho, Kiviet made some game changing announcements.

These include the appointment of additional subject advisors, education development officers and district curriculum heads. She reported that the majority critical vacancies had been filled and the province’s turnaround strategy, overseen by the national government, had begun showing positive outcomes as seen in last year’s improved matric results.

It would also appear that the national government intervention had yielded some positive results with the province achieving a 61.1% matric pass rate in 2012, for the first time since 2003. For the first time in many years, there were also no schools with a 0% pass rate, Kiviet said.

As part of ensuring that learning and teaching occurred from day one, the Premier said the delivery of textbooks and other learner support material was made on day one of schooling this year to more than 99% of schools. 

She said the scholar transport, which has been a thorny issue for the provincial administration for the past few years, had “stabilized” with 54 000 new learners being transported. Authorities were forced to pull the plug on learner transport after funds dried up and treasury was unable to make additional allocations.

With the province still falling behind when it comes to producing quality matric results, the Premier is aware that urgent steps are needed to address shoddy school infrastructure.

“We acknowledge that over a number of years, education in our province has experienced challenges. Some of which negatively impacted the attaining of learning outcomes. We had put in place mitigating factors and we are doing something about it.”

Kiviet promised that the coming years will also see a significant injection of resources into the school infrastructure critical for any improvements in the quality of education.

Last year, President Jacob Zuma and the Minister of Education Angie Motshekga presided over the opening of several new schools in the province which are part of 49 Eastern Cape mud schools set to be refurbished throughout the province this year.

Majority of the schools are situated in the rural former Transkei, where quality schooling is still something foreign to many learners.

“Despite the challenges faced by many rural schools, I wish to commend the class of 2012…I am also pleased to note in particular the performances in some of our poorer districts in 2012.

“These matric results are a culmination of a number of catalytic programmes aimed at improving the quality of education.”

To the turn the province’s health system around, Kieviet pledged to further channel more resources towards HIV and Aids and TB prevention.

In his State of the Nation Address delivered last week, President Zuma raised concerns about the country’s health system which he linked to South Africa’s low life expectancy with experts suggesting that by 2015, South Africans’ life expectancy would have been exactly where it was in 1955.

On Friday, Kiviet said notable strides have been made in the fight against HIV and Aids in the Eastern Cape as growing numbers of patients have been put on antiretroviral therapy. The number of facilities providing ARV treatment increased from 85 in 2009 to 780 by the end of 2012. More than 1400 nurses were trained to administer ARV treatment instead of this being done by a doctor. Close to 200 000 people were registered on the ARV programme in 2012 compared with just over 102 000 in 2009.

Turning to infrastructure, she noted in her speech on Friday that the Coega Industrial Development Zone in Port Elizabeth has thus far attracted private investments of more than R1.2 billion. The East London IDZ has to date secured R2.2 billion investment with a project pipeline of R12.7 billion.

Observers have said the cost of doing business in the Eastern Cape is high because of lack of adequate infrastructure.

The national government has placed Infrastructure development high on South Africa’s agenda in the next few years. The government will have spent R860-billion on new infrastructure projects in South Africa between 2009 and March this year.

Key infrastructure projects for the Eastern Cape include the upgrading of the Mthatha Airport runway and terminal, and the construction of the Nkosi Dalibhunga Mandela Legacy Road and Bridge. The poor state of the Mthatha airport was said to be stifling development and scaring off investors in the area. Kiviet said the construction of the runway was more than 70% complete. The East London Harbour was also being upgraded at a cost of R2.3 billion to improve the auto logistics platforms.

The Mandela Bridge, on the other hand is crucial to the province’s wider economic development and will reduce the distance between Mvezo and East London, Mthatha and Idutywa by more than 50 kilometres. The R123-million project will also provide work for more than 300 people.  –