As level 4 of the national lockdown officially phased in this week, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) made a U-turn to not have staff return to offices.
Sunday World can reveal that on Sunday, May 3, staff and managers were informed that they should not return to offices on Monday, May 4, as prescribed by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga.
Motshekga has said in a briefing on Thursday that the National Coronavirus Command Council approved that the school calendar for 2020 be adjusted as follows: “Office-based staff to return to work on 4th May 2020. This is in line with the directive from the Department of Public Service and Administration. School management teams should return to work on the 11th May 2020. This, we have done to ensure that the school management teams prepare the schools prior to return of learners,” said Motshekga.
The Gauteng Department of Education had overridden the minister’s command that sent a letter to staff contradicting the decision.
In a memorandum sent to staff and managers on May 3, seen by Sunday World, the Gauteng head of department Edward Mosuwe ordered that staff should not report to offices and instead work remotely until further communication.
In the document, the postponement of the reopening of offices was informed by the planning needed and the acquisition of personal protective equipment that the department had not done.
“The reopening of the Gauteng’s schooling system needs a properly planned process, which included the readiness of all facilities in terms of decontamination, personal protection equipment and reorientation,” reads the letter.
“Against all this background, the GDE staff members of the head office and districts [with the exception of senior managers and essential workers] are advised not to report for work on 4th May 2020. “Where possible staff should work remotely until such a time we have formally communicated a phased-in approach and target dates,” said Mosuwe in the letter.
Prior to the release of the memorandum, in a leaked audio recording, MEC Panyaza Lesufi was in a briefing with the premier’s office stating reasons why the department was not ready to open its doors for operation.
“We as Gauteng shared our input. Our approach as Gauteng is simple. Safety first. And that we will start with the necessary requirements to ensure that all our facilities are okayed by the Department of Health before staff or learners go to those facilities,” said Lesufi in a voice recording.
Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga released a statement to confirm the U-turn decision and said it has warned all schools against the premature reopening of schools.
“The minister has already indicated how she intends to have schools reopening and until a final decision is made no school may proceed to open and receive learners,” said Mhlanga in a statement.