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SA: Blade Nzimande: Address by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, on progress in the post school education and training sector in response to Covid-19 epidemic - lockdown level one and towards the end of the academic year 2020 (26/11/20

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SA: Blade Nzimande: Address by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, on progress in the post school education and training sector in response to Covid-19 epidemic - lockdown level one and towards the end of the academic year 2020 (26/11/20

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Dr Blade Nzimande

26th November 2020

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Programme Director,
Deputy Minister Buti Manamela;
DHET Exco;
Members of the media;
Ladies and gentlemen

Good day,

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COVID-19 left no sector in our country and the world unaffected, and its consequences will be felt for years to come.

This pandemic, which created a “new normal” for the entire country, had a huge impact on the PSET sector, affected the 2020 academic year and demanded that we adopt new ways of offering learning and teaching, and all the other mandates of the PSET system.

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I remain grateful by the commitment of all members of the Ministerial Task Team on COVID 19 who contributed significantly to us saving the academic year and saving lives.

I therefore would like to salute our Deputy Minister Buti Manamela, as well as our key stakeholders such as SACPO, USAF, Labour Unions, SAUS, SAFETSA, student political organisations, public servants and all the public and private institutions who made a contribution to us saving the academic year and saving lives.

Equally I want to acknowledge the leadership role of President Ramaphosa, my cabinet colleagues and the National Command Council (NCC) who guided the entire Covid-19 response process.

At all material times, our measures continue to be guided by the strategic logic of the national COVID-19 risk adjusted strategy, and we committed ourselves to ensuring that no student is left behind and that all our PSET institutions are safe.

On higher health management of Covid-19

Higher health, as the health and wellness implementing agency of the Department of Higher Education and Training, has been supporting the COVID-19 response across the Post School Education and Training System (PSET) since Lockdown Level 5, and up till now.

Working with other experts, scientists and stakeholders, especially the World Health Organisation (WHO), the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), our sister Department of Health, and other agencies, HIGHER HEALTH built comprehensive programmes, systems, controls and infrastructure. This has been done through the establishment of guidelines, protocols and capacity building that are grounded in science and the latest epidemiological data.

The inevitable reality of the COVID pandemic and its associated mortality continues to loom around the sector, warranting continuous strengthening of systems, controls, and management of the pandemic, in the sector.

Let me, now engage on the recent few cluster outbreaks that we have been experiencing over the last few weeks in several institutions in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

To address these COVID-19 outbreaks, HIGHER HEALTH along with our leadership from institutions, have assembled a multidisciplinary investigation team which also includes members from World Health Organization, the Health Department, the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) to manage and contain the outbreaks through early identification of infected students and staff, identifying their contacts and appropriately assisting them with early isolation and quarantine to break the chain and further spread of the infection.

Furthermore, we successfully negotiated with the NHLS to reduce the confirmation time for results. In the past few weeks since the outbreak over 600 students and staff have been tested and those who tested positive have been isolated or admitted to quarantine and health facilities. Contacts have also been isolated and given the necessary support.

The Cluster Investigation teams have responded to the outbreaks in an exemplary manner and this has resulted in having few to no new cases in the last week.

However, we do anticipate more cluster outbreaks, across other provinces and institutions and I appeal to students and staff to stick to preventive measures – including wearing of masks, proper hand-washing, avoiding handshaking and social and physical distancing.

I once again call upon every student to use this TOLL-FREE line 0800 363636, anytime during the day or night and they must know that they are not alone, in these challenging times.

Gender-Based Violence

In response to President Ramaphosa’s call for civic activism in dealing with gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), I released the Policy Framework to Address Gender-Based Violence in the Post-School Education and Training System (2020).

This policy is a response to continued GBV in colleges and universities, leading to violent incidents, depression on the part of victims, their families and friends, and loss of lives.

In 2019, I also appointed a Ministerial Task Team to advise me on matters of sexual harassment and gender- based violence and harm at our institutions.

The Task Team recently held four virtual engagements with stakeholders within the university sector. The input of these workshops will provide a valuable basis for finalising the work of the MTT. I therefore expect the report by end of the current financial year.

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