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COVID-19: Makgoe insists schools safer for children



Staff Reporter

Free State Education MEC Tate Makgoe believes public schools, which have been ordered to take a month-long break to avert the spread of the coronavirus, remain a safe place for learners as they are constantly screened for the disease while their movements are also regulated.

In his supplementary budget vote speech presented on his behalf by Economic Development MEC Makalo Mohale, Makgoe said while President Cyril Ramaphosa’s directive to close schools allows for an opportunity to re-evaluate school operations, the phased reopening of schools had proved an effective way to monitor the health of learners.

“. . . we still believe that learners are better at school than in communities and homes where the infections are actually taking place,” Makgoe said in his speech.

All public schools have been ordered to take a four-week break starting July 27 to August 24.

Grade 12 learners and teachers will only take a week-long break from July 27 to 31.

Grade 7 learners will return to school on August 10 and the academic year will be extended beyond 2020.

“This break will give us an opportunity for schools to prepare for the return of more grades to school later in August,” Makgoe said in his R15.6 billion budget speech.

“We appeal to school communities to continue with their work during the break.

“Parents, teachers and learners alike are urged to continue with school work.”

Makgoe urged schools to make arrangements with parents for learners to get work or materials for them to remain fully engaged during the break.

“Education is very much part of our livelihood. We are dealing with a completely new environment,” he said.

“We need to be afforded the opportunity and space to gradually settle in dealing with the new normal of operating under COVID-19, in line with the risks adjusted differentiated approach in reopening schools.”

Makgoe said since the reopening on schools on June 8, COVID-19 had claimed the lives of three teachers.

“. . . we have 760 teachers who had tested positive for COVID-19,” he said.

“Sadly, we (have) lost three teachers to this virulent pandemic . . . (while) an estimated 294 learners . . . also tested positive for COVID-19.”

The depth of the loss, according to Makgoe, is compounded by the COVID-19 restrictions that do not allow people to mourn together

“There are no COVID-19-related deaths of any learner that have been reported in the province so far,” he said.

“This confirms the advice received from health experts that children, in general, are less likely to get or spread COVID-19 and that they are less likely to get seriously ill from it.”

The MEC said despite the disruptions brought by the pandemic, the province is set to retain its top spot in the matric pass rate and has set a target for a 90 percent pass rate with 40 percent bachelor passes.

Makgoe also announced that rural schools will undergo major reorganisation over the next three years which will see non-viable farm schools being closed.

“For the next three years, all non-viable farm schools with less than 50 learners or any school with more than 50 learners where a teacher teaches all the subjects across grades will be closed as these circumstances do not promote quality teaching,” he said.

“Most learners in these schools cannot complete schooling because they are not able to cope and are likely to drop out of the system.

“In terms of learners travelling long distances to schools, we are reviewing non-viable routes with the intention of closing them down.

“We will be moving our farm school learners from both the non-viable schools and routes to hostels.”

The provincial education department currently has 39 farm school hostels accommodating 5 400 learners at a yearly cost of R84 million.

The programme, according to Makgoe, has worked very well and managed to protect vulnerable rural learners from different social challenges.

He said learners have managed to complete their education with some going as far as registering at colleges and universities and completing their studies.


Mangaung warns residents to brace for heavy rainfall



DISRUPTIVE DOWNPOUR LOOMING . . . Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned heavy rainfall is expected to pound the capital

The Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned residents in and around the Free State capital to brace for heavy rainfall that could cause flooding this Friday.

The municipality is urging drivers to take extra caution by reducing speed and switching their headlights on, while pedestrians are being reminded to be careful when crossing the road and to avoid crossing rivers and streams where water is above the ankles.

“Residents of Mangaung Metro, particularly in the former Naledi region, are urged to be cautious on the road and in their homes as the South African Weather Service has issued an impact-based warning . . . for possible disruptive rainfall,” the metro said in a statement.

“This warning is valid for Friday, 20 May 2022 until Saturday, 21 May 2022.”

“Heavy rains are also predicted in Bloemfontein on Friday,” it added.

“Localised flooding can be expected in susceptible low-lying areas, roads, formal/informal settlements and bridges.” – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung speaker vows not to be silenced by charges



DEFIANT . . . Mangaung council speaker Stefani Lockman-Naidoo

Mangaung council speaker Stefani Lockman-Naidoo has vowed not to stop fighting corruption in the metro after she was summoned to a disciplinary hearing set for next month for disobeying her party, the ANC, resulting in the axing and suspension of senior officials in the municipality.

The ANC Mangaung Interim Regional Committee (IRC) has summoned her to a disciplinary hearing on June 7 to answer to charges of knowingly and intentionally defying a resolution of the ANC Caucus in council after she allowed a motion to be debated without referring it to party structures in the council.

Lockman-Naidoo’s tiff with her party dates back to January when the Mangaung IRC announced her suspension after she was accused of defying the ANC’s instruction no to proceed with a sitting which resulted in then acting city manager Sello More being removed from office.

The Mangaung speaker also told The Free Stater on Thursday that she was being targeted for presiding over a recent council sitting that resolved to suspend several allegedly corrupt officials in the municipality.

“We are being charged for suspending a corrupt HOD (head of department),” said Lockman-Naidoo, referring to David Nkaiseng who heads corporate services.

A council meeting held on May 12 – after receiving an investigation report from Matlho Attorneys – resolved, among others, to bring charges against Nkaiseng for his alleged role in unlawfully appointing the officials resulting in the flouting of municipal policy of appointment of officials as well as flouting municipal staff regulations and the code of conduct for municipal officials.

“We are being targeted because we are purging these corrupt officials of Mangaung,” charged Lockman-Naidoo.

“I will not tolerate any corruption . . . Wherever I go I will be known as that speaker that didn’t tolerate corruption,” she added confidently.

The speaker was however quick to point out that those charging her had no authority to do so.

“But you see, the charges are not from the ANC because they didn’t ask for permission from the provincial coordinator (Paseka Nompondo) to charge us,” she said.

“The region itself is an illegitimate structure. Its term has expired and these are just factions . . .

“It’s a faction of the region that is charging us – it’s not the ANC.

“They are the ones that are purging us because we are not part of their faction.

“This is what’s going on. They don’t tolerate me.”

Lockman-Naidoo claimed the faction was not happy with the suspension of the HOD.

“The council resolution . . . says several criminal charges must be opened against the HOD himself and relevant officials,” she said.

“And I’m wrong for suspending a person like that?

“I don’t mind being charged at all because we did the right thing as council.

“They are saying . . . they are charging us because I allowed the item to sit in council.

“It’s not my item – it’s a council item. I couldn’t remove it. There was nothing I could do.”

Council also resolved that Nzimeni Maswabi be charged by acting city manager for his role in approving unlawful staff appointments.

It also wants Thabang Joseph Mpeli to be charged for his role in the drafting of unlawful appointment letters.

However, ANC Mangaung IRC spokesperson Ncamisa Ngxangisa has dismissed Lockman-Naidoo’s claims saying the party was not targeting anyone but it simply wanted to put its house in order.

In a separate interview, Ngxangisa said there were concerns some councillors could be working with the opposition, hence the probe.

“We are not targeting individuals. We are dealing with members of the ANC who happen to be councillors in this regard,” he told The Free Stater.

“This is after we received concerns that there could be some members who are voting with the opposition, against the position of the caucus of the ANC in that municipality.

“We took everything as it is, and referred the matter to our sub-committee that deals with issues of discipline so that they inquire into all these allegations levelled against all these comrades.

“But at the same time, it gives these comrades an opportunity to respond or query any evidence that may be presented against them.”

Ngxangisa said every organisation implements disciplinary processes when something goes wrong and the ANC was only exercising its right to do so.

“We are a political party, we contest elections,” he said.

“We are relying on our councillors to make sure that our policy position and decisions find expression in that council.

“If there are allegations that such is not happening, any self-loving political party will stand up and do something about it.

“These accusations are neither here nor there – no one is targeted.

“There are concerns that the centre is not holding in that municipality.

“Our caucus through the chief whip is not given enough support by our councillors and there are such allegations.

“That’s a cause for serious concern which must be attended to so that the ANC can at least enjoy its majority in that municipality.”

The Mangaung IRC spokesperson emphasised that the ANC was firmly against any corrupt activities but indicated that councillors were expected to represent the interests of the party and not their own.

“When we say all councillors must toe this line, we expect everyone to toe that line. Anyone who goes astray is a concern to us,” he said.  – Staff Reporter

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Centlec warns cable theft masterminds



STOLEN . . . Part of the copper cable recovered by the police

Power distribution company Centlec has issued a stern warning to people believed to be hired by unknown individuals or syndicates to steal copper cables from the power lines saying it will not allow them to destroy such key infrastructure and put the country’s economy at risk.

“This is war and we will fight it tooth and nail,” said Centlec in a statement.

“We want to send a strong message to the criminals and their handlers that we will not rest until they are behind bars,” added the company, which distributes electricity to Mangaung and surrounding municipalities.

It said it is aware that most of the criminals are just fronts who are sent by kingpins who then process the copper before selling it.

Centlec warned the kingpins that they would soon face the full might of the law.

“Some of the fronts happen to be vulnerable foreign nationals who are being used to steal our cables by their handlers,” said the company.

A joint operation by Centlec and the police in recent weeks has led to several arrests and the recovery of hundreds of kilogrammes of copper cable destined for scrapyards.

In the latest three incidents, a man was arrested in Botshabelo after being found in possession of copper cable believed to have been stolen.

Several people were also arrested following inspections at two scrapyards in Botshabelo where large amounts of copper were found.

At a scrapyard in Bloemfontein, a man was issued with a fine after he was found with copper weighing 150kg which he failed to account for.

Investigations are still underway to ascertain the real owner of the scrapyard for possible arrest.

“We are worried that many of these scrapyards are becoming a haven for criminals and promoting criminality,” said Centlec chief executive officer Malefane Sekoboto. – Staff Reporter

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