Early childhood development (ECD) workers, activists, service organisations, parents and supporters protested outside Parliament last week demanding that all outstanding ECD Employment Stimulus Relief Funds be paid before the financial year ends.
A group of about 250 people handed over a memorandum of demands to members of Parliament on Thursday March 17, calling on the Department of Social Development (DSD) to expedite the payment of over R250 million to ECD workers before March 31.
Professor Eric Atmore, director of the Centre for Early Childhood Development (CECD) in Claremont, said R1.3 billion was promised to the sector in October 2020.
“The R1.3 billion dropped to R712 million in the previous financial year because DSD could not get their act together. National treasury rolled over R455 million and of that about R200 million had been spent and the rest is waiting to be spent on poor, desperate ECD teachers, some who didn’t have a proper salary for two years,” he said.
The CECD is one of the 17 service providers in the Western Cape tasked by DSD to assist ECD centres with their registration process.
CECD has more than 450 centres in its registration areas.
During lockdown, CEDC had in addition to disseminating practical information to its networks of over 13 000 individuals, assisted about 345 ECD teachers and principals during this stimulus relief fund process through their fieldwork, visits to their office, calls, emails, and WhatsApp.
At the protest, Colleen Horswell-Daniels, principal of Gerards Early Childhood Development Centre and a representative of the ECD workers, said firstly the application process by DSD was out of reach as many workers in the rural and poor areas did not have access to cellphones, email or wi-fi to apply for the stimulus.
“We had to come to the aid of our fellow ECDs and helped them apply for the stimulus. The government has failed our ECD centres, centres which play an important role in shaping our children,” she said.
Speaking on the memorandum of demands, Ms Horswell-Daniels called on DSD to be held accountable and to ensure that the funds were not lost or rolled over to the new financial year.
Yumna Allie, chairwoman of the Grassy Park Early Childhood Development Forum, said they attended the protest not only to support the mass action but also to try to get the minister and presidency to hear their plight, not just for themselves but the entire sector as the issue of funding had been coming on since last year.
“So many sectors have received their funding but our sector has been largely neglected. Our sector was struggling even before the lockdown as many centres took parents’ personal funds into account barely making ends meet. Many of our centres are not able to charge what they should be charging because of the communities they work in,” she said.
Ms Allie said during lockdown many parents had lost their income, they were either unemployed or on short-time but their children still needed to be looked after.
“We continued to deliver the service but could not even afford to pay our staff their full salary. Some practitioners in our area worked for free, just to keep the centres open with the hope of receiving the relief fund from DSD. So we are here today to show how disgusted and angry we are at DSD that they have not made this a priority, have made empty promises and made access to this funding so difficult,” she said.
Elvina Ndamoyi from Worcester said the government had taken them for granted, not recognising the role ECDs played. “We are the ones preparing the children for school but our sector has been forgotten,” she said.
Mr Atmore believed that with the correct political will and action the money could be paid over by March 31.
“We are scared that come March 31, that money is going back to the Treasury and is never going to return to the ECD sector – which will be a tragedy.”
Mr Atmore said that in this province over R20 million had been distributed already, which went “fairly seamlessly” but that was not the case in the other provinces.
In a statement on Tuesday March 15, Social Development MEC, Sharna Fernandez, welcomed the appointment of a service provider to assist with the ECD Stimulus Relief Fund payments.
The appointment came after the decision by the National Department of Social Development to hand over the entire responsibility of verifying the details of ECD centres and processing the respective payments of the ECD Stimulus Relief Fund to all provincial DSDs.
Ms Fernandez said the ongoing delays in the stimulus payments were due to the National Department of Social Development’s failure to implement a functional system capable of adequately verifying the details of all ECD programmes and services that applied.
“We recognise that thousands of ECD centres across the province are desperate for the financial support that was promised to them by the National government. As such, the Department will meet with the appointed service provider to discuss the arrangements that need to be made to ensure that the remaining payments take place as swiftly and effectively as possible.
“We wish to assure the ECD sector that the payments of the ECD Stimulus Relief Fund will extend beyond the current financial year and will not be impacted by the ECD migration from Social Development to the Department of Basic Education on the 1st of April 2022,” she said.
The Western Cape government received R53 million as part of the ECD Stimulus Relief Fund, of which R 25 727 156.00 (48% of the total batch value) had been paid out. Of the 3143 applications received, 1426 had been processed.