By Loni Prinsloo for Bloomberg; Luke Daniel for The South African
South Africa will begin reopening schools from 1 June, allowing students to return in a phased approach in a continuing effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Classes will start nationally for students from grades seven and 12 – the final years of primary and high school respectively, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said in a televised address on Tuesday. Schools have been closed since 27 March, when the government introduced a nationwide lockdown to slow the pace of Covid-19 infections.
The South African government has added additional mobile classrooms and infrastructure such as sanitisation facilities and water tankers where needed to prepare schools to reopen. Teachers should report for duty on 25 May, while a new calendar will be gazetted soon and further information about when other grades resume will be made at a later date, Motshekga said.
Smaller special-needs institutions, and some private schools that are less crowded and better able to manage social distancing, won’t necessarily need to reopen in a phased manner that’s required at larger public schools, the minister said.
South Africa’s choice to resume education is in keeping with a number of other countries that have had more severe Covid-19 outbreaks and some that have had shorter lockdown periods. These countries include China, Denmark, Israel, Finland, France, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.
In most cases, governments are introducing precautionary measures such as temperature checks, reduced class-sizes and spacing desks further apart.
If pupils are to return, schools need to:
- See the return of School Management Teams and teachers (on 25 May) which will oversee the school’s state of readiness
- Sanitise all classrooms and facilities (to be completed daily as part of the Standard Operating Procedures)
- Equip all school staff with personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Recondition classrooms to facilitate social distancing and limit movement
- Procure a sufficient number of face masks ( to be worn at all times by all learners and staff)
- Ensure access to running water and hand sanitisation stations
- Ensure COVID-19 screening systems are in place
The Standard Operating Procedures booklet, which schools would need to follow, includes:
- Physical distances in classrooms, includes not more than 2 learners sharing desks
- No hugging or handshaking
- Direct contact must be avoided
- Cloth masks to be worn by learners and teachers at all times
- No mass public events. All sports matches, choral practices and festivals, eisteddfods are not permitted
- Extra classes should be arranged in small groups that maintain social distancing
- Sanitise classrooms prior to the start of school day
- Sanitise hands on entering of classrooms
- Limit movement of learners between classes
- No clustering of desks in classrooms
- In addition, school staff will be provided with health and safety orientation sessions on how to help fight COVID-19 in classrooms.
Car manufacturers say they are still committed to the South African market.
This comes after US carmaker General Motors (GM) announced its plans to dis-invest from the South African market. This is part of the group’s strategy to withdraw its operations in international markets.
GM confirmed to Fin24 that its decision was not influenced by local economic and political factors, such as the downgrade to junk status. GM embarked on a process to review its international operations, and its actions to improve its performance, as far back as 2013, when the group exited Australia, the carmaker said.
GM’s competitors shared similar sentiments about the local investment environment.
Matt Gennrich, General Manager of Communications at Volkswagen South Africa (VWSA), explained that the group takes long term investment decisions, which are not impacted by “short-term socio-political, economic issues”.
Last year VWSA invested R5.5bn toward new product development, with the new products expected to be launched to market next year, said Gennrich. He reiterated that VWSA is committed to the investment, and expects growth in the motor industry. VWSA produced close to 130 000 units in 2016, up from 123 000 in 2015.
Ford, which has been operating in South Africa since 1923, also said it would remain committed to growing its business in South Africa. The company sold 73 856 cars in South Africa in 2016.
So far for 2017, the motor company has sold 23 732 units, said corporate communications manager, Alisea Chetty. The company has doubled the amount of vehicles assembled at its Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria.
Regarding the low economic growth environment, Chetty said challenges such as market and political volatility, power supply concerns, underdevelopment of skills, poverty and unemployment are concerning. But the company remains bullish about the opportunities that still exist in the local market.
Diederik Reitsma, general manager of communications at BMW South Africa said his company was taking a long-term view regarding its investments. The company recently invested R6bn in its Rosslyn Plant in Pretoria.
In 2016, the Rosslyn plant produced 63 000 units. However, a volume below 63 000 is expected in 2017. “[This is] due to normal life cycle developments of the current BMW 3 Series and shutdowns for BMW X3 preparations,” he said.
City Press, reporting on GM’s recent performance, said that even though the manufacturer’s Struandale plant has the capacity to produce 100 000 units, it had not met the annual minimum production volume of 50 000 units since 2013.
Over the past four years, it produced 167 078 units, this is 40 000 units a year. This includes the Isuzu bakkies manufactured at the facility, City Press reported. In 2016, GM only produced 31 000 units.
This is 5% of the 604 000 units produced by the industry in 2016, according to the National Association of Automobile manufacturers if South Africa (Naamsa).
In a statement issued by GM South Africa on Friday, the group confirmed it commenced a Section 189 process, which may impact 589 employees.
By Lameez Omarjee for Fin24