Textbooks crisis a national shame
Senior ANC leader Jeff Radebe has admitted that his government's failure to deliver textbooks to Limpopo schools was a national "shame".
Speaking to reporters at the ANC policy conference in Midrand yesterday, Radebe - who is also the party's head of policy - said the deepening textbook crisis had brought more questions than answers.
His comments came as the Department of Basic Educationscrambled to meet a new deadline its officials had agreed on with non-governmental organisation Section 27 to supply all Limpopo schools with textbooks by yesterday.
The NGO had brought a court application against the department over its inability to provide pupils with textbooks. In his judgment, Pretoria High Court Judge Jody Kollapen instructed Minister Angie Motshekga to devise a catch-up plan to remedy her department's failure by June 15.
After it failed to do so, the department and Section 27 agreed on a final delivery date - which was yesterday.
Radebe was speaking as President Jacob Zuma was attempting to convince conference delegates to agree on proposals contained in the ''second transition'' document which, the party says, will help to eradicate poverty, unemployment and inequality in the country.
"A bad thing has happened. Six months into the year, our children are still without textbooks," he said.
"So it is a matter of shame that this has happened."
Radebe, who is also minister of justice and constitutional development, quoting radio reports, said as far as he understood, 95% of textbooks had been delivered.
"To add insult to injury, textbooks are being burned."
Radebe was referring to reports this week that books had been destroyed by the Limpopo provincial department of education. The books included a biography of former president Nelson Mandela and William Shakespeare's Macbeth.
"I do not understand which textbooks can be burned, which textbooks cannot be used and which should be burned," Radebe added.
As he admitted to a "shameful deficiency" on the part of the Department of Basic Education, its officials were working frantically to meet yesterday's deadline.
Hope Mokgatle, the department's spokesman, said 98% of the schools had received their books by 5pm yesterday.
According to Mokgatle, the books were loaded from a depot in Polokwane and taken to district warehouses, from where they were to be distributed to schools.
She said there were no books left in the depot by 5pm.
Mokgatle said the department did not have the "luxury" of time as it had to "ensure that by midnight textbooks have arrived at schools".
"The districts have ensured that principals are ready to receive the textbooks," Mokgatle said.
Education officials have urged pupils to use the winter holiday to catch up with their studies.
The DA's Desiree van der Walt said of a sample of schools monitored in Polokwane and Modimolle alone, at least 40 schools still had not received any books or had received incomplete orders.
Van der Walt said it appeared many of the core textbooks were still outstanding in many of the schools. She said Grade 10 pupils at Kola Leboho Secondary in Blouberg, in the Capricorn district, had received only life sciences and agricultural science textbooks.
To add to the hapless department's woes, nine members of the African Publishers Association have lodged papers in the Pretoria High Court to stop it from distributing textbooks in Limpopo.
The publishers want to interdict the department from selecting textbooks not chosen by the schools, claiming they had lost more than R20-million in printing costs.
Nkhebeleni Phaswana, the association's secretary, said catalogues with various textbooks had been sent to schools by publishers for teachers to select those they wanted - as usual - but the department wanted to find its own books.
"Who is paying for the books that were printed and used for marketing? We do not want compensation, but we want the department to buy books that teachers have selected.
"We have the material - they are there. All other provinces have ordered normally. So, as publishers, we are saying now we are in debt because of the government."
Phaswana said some of the association's members had used their homes as surety.
"We stand to lose our houses and this is something we cannot let go without a challenge."
Association spokesman Sakie Shabangu said: "The administrator intended to order some textbooks without the schools selecting them as agreed. When we objected, the administrator withdrew the orders and claimed he needed further consultation with the department."
Mokgatle said she was unaware of the court case .
She said the department did not rely on teachers to select or recommend textbooks to be ordered.
"We have subject advisers and academics who write textbooks and the department prescribes the books."