Shortly after the 2004 general election, the National Party (NP) died in the arms of the African National Congress (ANC). Looking at the obsession of our current crop of politicians with destructive racist ideology rather than the good of the country, we see the after-effects of that tumultuous and doomed love story.

For the Nationalists who were behind the cruel injustice of bantu education, racial nationalism, flags, symbols, and Afrikaans in schools ranked above all else in the consideration of policy.

In Panyaza Lesufi, this crooked Verwoerdian approach seems to have arisen anew: policy based on obsessive racial nationalism born of a truly traumatic but cynically perpetuated victimhood occupies pride of place in the business of government – the interests of ordinary South Africans forgotten and flippantly dismissed as being secondary to a perpetuation of racial victimhood. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it.

How else can one explain the most recent and substantial failures of the Gauteng Department of Education? In three recent instances, Panyaza Lesufi’s department dropped the ball, with taxpayers paying the price and children bearing the brunt.

The first instance relates to a website designed to ease access to online educational resources. The second refers to allegations of irregular expenditure of around R1.2 billion. The third, to the disastrous placement system the Gauteng Education Department rolled out in October 2019. Before fleshing out these issues, the question arises: why this destructive, expensive, and repeated dropping of the ball? Was it because Lesufi’s obsession with apartheid, Afrikaans and the past distracted his attention from the South Africa of the future, the South Africa he is democratically tasked to build?

In October of 2019, Lesufi, announced the launch of a website aimed at providing access to ‘new online curriculum lessons’. Development of the website, he said on Twitter, took six years. Easing access to educational resources and curricula for teachers, especially those from poorer areas suffering under the cruel legacy of apartheid, is undoubtedly a laudable development all South Africans should welcome, and for this initiative, the Gauteng Department of Education deserves credit. But it is a duty of government to ensure the efficient spending of scarce resources. This duty is of even greater importance in education precisely because of the vast disadvantages suffered by countless South Africans. These resources are made all the more precious by the hopes pinned on them by millions hoping to see their children receive the education denied them by decades of racially discriminatory and uncaring government.

But the quality of the Gauteng education website (found at gdecontent.co.za) raises serious questions about how it was created and the money spent on it, especially considering that it took six years to develop, as Lesufi indicated on Twitter.

This is unfortunate and worrying.

An analysis of the website by members of the public highlighted shortcomings that indicated substandard development, creating a strong suspicion of inefficient expenditure and maladministration of resources. Among these are the website’s lack of HTTPS protocol in service of privacy and data integrity, layout elements indicating usage of an open-source and free-learning management system, and antiquated open-source platform web server software. These elements support the conclusion that the website is badly designed.

To quote a member of the public regarding the software design: ‘In simple English: It took them 6 years to set up a bunch of free software, then customize it to the point where supporting it is likely a fool’s errand, and by the time they launched it, literally everything inside it is out of date.’

This analysis is cause for great concern and warrants an investigation into spending incurred on creating the website. Taxpayers have a right to know if politicians spend hard-earned taxes on overpriced and badly developed vanity projects, or honour their duty in putting public money to the best use possible.

The second cause for concern regarding possible maladministration relates to the alleged R1.2 billion of irregular expenditure by the Gauteng Education Department. Details of this were published in news media in October 2019. Lesufi sought to explain the reports on the spending of this vast amount by posting photographs of what seem to be governmental expenditure reports, but these photographs are astoundingly insufficient in explaining away the complexities of the irregular expenditure. The cavalier attitude with which Lesufi engaged with members of the public asking legitimate questions of him regarding this matter speaks of a fundamental lack of respect by the MEC for the democratic right South African citizens have to hold government officials to account. His social media flippancy in response to scrutiny of the apparent mismanagement of public resources amounting over R1 billion is demeaning to his office. Citizens deserve a thorough investigation into these allegations of irregular expenditure, even if Lesufi is right in his laid-back defence that the more accurate figure for his department’s irregular expenditure in 2018/2019 was in the hundreds of millions of rands and not over a billion.

The third instance of worrying signs of governmental maladministration by the education department in Gauteng, and perhaps the most pressing and urgent, pertains to the recent roll-out of the school placement system.

The system is reported to have come into effect in 2016 and is claimed to have functioned inadequately since. In recent days, social and news media have been filled with stories and photographs portraying parents in distress over the failures of Lesufi’s department to ensure the effective and satisfactory placement of children at schools for 2020. This is nothing short of a disgrace.

Lesufi is always eager and swift to speak out on anything to do with race, but the slowness of his department to address the very real and justified anger of parents seeking the basic assurance of an education for their children is downright shocking. How can such an important and behemothic system be implemented over so many years with so many continual failures? These failures present significant risks to the futures of thousands of South African children eager to earn an education to build a better life.

Under apartheid, barriers and obstacles to education were everyday occurrences – under Lesufi’s leadership, or lack thereof, the children of Gauteng still face too many such obstacles to learning, and barriers to success. Who can fault parents if they see in the failings of his Lesufi’s department continued exclusionary practices? Who can blame parents for being angry at the failings of the current Gauteng government? And why must South African parents again pay the price for a politician’s ideological addiction to racial nationalism?

The time has come to #FreeEducation from the clutches of the politicians, the ideologues, the race-baiters and the perpetuators of racial division. With the ANC following in the steps of the NP, it’s time, surely, for South Africans to consign all that to the political graveyard.

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Hermann Pretorius
Hermann studied law and opera before entering politics and think tankery - the obvious career path. In furtherance of the logicality of his career trajectory, he worked for the election campaign of a formerly liberal, formerly growing opposition party in 2019. In an attempt to deal with his PTSD from this latter experience, he has recently taken up a position at the IRR as an analyst. A religious, landless, anglophilic, Afrikaans classical liberal still waiting on his letter of acceptance to the Patriarchy™, Hermann tries to make the best of, you know, things.

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