The collapse of an R866-million Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) infrastructure project has painted a bleak picture of the government’s ability to deliver on its promises.
Circumstances around the failed government project were recently detailed in a report by University World News.
The project was to be undertaken by the higher education department’s Wholesale and Retail Sector Education and Training Authority (W&RSETA).
W&RSETA is one of 21 SETAs in South Africa — authorities tasked with developing and improving skills through levies they collect from businesses in particular industries.
In October 2019, W&RSETA received approval from National Treasury to use surplus funds for one of DHET’s infrastructure development programmes.
This programme would include expanding support to colleges, and developments or upgrades at colleges and community education centres.
- R250 million for an Orange Farm TVET College campus
- R250 million for a South Cape TVET College George campus
- R60 million for a new Free State community college
- R40 million for Alfred Nzo District skills centre
- R50 million for a pilot training programme
- R102 million for small business centres
- R60 million administration fee for W&RSETA
Discussions around the R250-million Orange Farm TVET project started in November 2019, which included meetings between W&RSETA and the DHET on the delivery model and contractors for the college’s construction.
However, on 13 May 2020, DHET minister Blade Nzimande ordered the college project in Orange Farm be stopped to “capacitate communities for sustainable livelihoods and respond to the socio-economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic”.
In a letter to the would-be developer of the college, W&RSETA’s CEO said that the DHET requested training authorities to review their annual performance plans to prioritise those which would assist companies and students worst impacted by Covid-19.
It is not clear where this R866 million was diverted.
University World News contacted W&RSETA and the ministry for comment, but the two entities did not provide direct responses to questions on the “missing” funds.
National Treasury also confirmed the funds had not been returned and were not accounted for as required by the Public Finance Management Act regulations.
This apparent failure by government contrasts with the achievement of a privately-funded college development by labour movement Solidarity.
The organisation in March opened its R300-million Sol-Tech technical training college campus in Centurion, Pretoria, after just 15 months of construction.
Despite severe stock shortages and the closure of its construction site for more than a month due to tight Covid-19 lockdown measures implemented last year, the Sol-Tech campus was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.
The result is a campus comprising seven workshops, classes for theory lessons, and a cafeteria with 400 seats.
Students can enrol in various full-time courses to qualify as welders, fitters and turners, toolmakers, electricians, millwrights, diesel and tractor mechanics or auto electricians.
Below are images of the Sol-Tech campus after its official unveiling in March this year.