Two Catholic schools, including a decades-old school for deaf and hearing impaired children, are set to close because the Department of Education has not paid the church for the rent of the buildings.
According to a statement by the Democratic Alliance, the Eastern Cape Department of Education’s on-going financial mismanagement and lack of accountability was impacting on learners’ continued ability to access education as the St. Thomas School for the Deaf outside Stutterheim and the Smiling Valley Intermediate School at Cobongo face closure.
“The Catholic Church is threatening to close [these] schools in the province due to long standing non-payment of rentals by the department. The funds are needed to maintain the schools, which are falling into disrepair,” said DA Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature Leader Bobby Stevenson.
Despite a parliamentary question by Stevenson to the department and numerous attempts by the church to resolve this matter, the non-payments continue.
Stevenson said the Catholic Church leases 21 school buildings to the province of which 18 are in arrears.
Stevenson said altogether the church is owed R926,663, with R146,549 owed for rental for St. Thomas, going back 11 months, and R79 960 owed for the Smiling Valley, going back 15 months.
“The department must contact the church and pay what they owe in order to resolve this matter,” he said.
According to a response to a question submitted by Stevenson to the MEC of Education, Mandla Makupula, the arrear rentals were paid, but the church disputes this.
“The church has tried on three occasions to meet with the department. Mr. Mike De Vos, the church’s representative, travelled three times from Port Elizabeth to the department’s head office in Zwelitsha to meet with officials after a fixed appointment. Each time the officials were nowhere to be found,” said Stevenson.