The Limpopo Textbooks Fiasco

Matshidiso Madia Matshidiso Madia

South Africa’s school year starts in January, and ideally all learners should be halfway through their syllabus by June. That has not been the case in Limpopo province.

How it all started:

On the 17th of May 2012, the North Gauteng High Court ordered the Department of Basic Education to sort out a textbook shortage in the province. This followed a case which was brought to the court by rights organisation Section 27, together with the National Association for School Governing Bodies (NASGB). The deadline set out by Judge Jody Kolappen was the 15th of June.

During the ruling Kolappen said that the failure to provide textbooks to all public school students is a violation of their constitutional right to an education.

In the previous year numerous sectors in Limpopo, including finance, the education departments, health and social development were placed under national government's control because it was cash-strapped owing to unauthorised expenditure, which went from R1.5 billion in 2009 to R2.7 billion in 2011.

Failure to deliver:

For no clear reason the department failed to meet that deadline and set a new cut-off date after a meeting with Section 27. That same day, the Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga held a press conference where she declared that there was no crisis in education, even though study material was still missing and a credible catch-up plan was not laid down.

Motshekga has denied fault for the state of her department, saying cash flow and administrative problems were to blame. However, her department’s failure to meet the set deadline put the country’s education system in the spotlight, which some say is a reflection of bad policies and poor planning.
Leading up to the second deadline, in an interview with Talk Radio 702’s John Robbie Motshekga said the problems were initially caused by a lack of funds, and after approaching treasury they then faced a mass transport problem that took long to resolve.

A department condemned:

The Minister has apologised but refuses to step down from her post, a move many feel should happen. The Democratic Alliance released a statement saying if the Minister could not guarantee the delivery of books she should resign. The DA has also asked for a relationship between Motshekga and the company that was initially responsible for delivering the books (Edusolutions) to be investigated - the company’s three year contract of delivering books around Limpopo was cancelled in April due to allegations of tender irregularities.

The Congress of the People has said if it was in other democracies of the world, both the Minister and the MEC of Education would have voluntarily resigned from their positions for having had failed to politically lead the education portfolio with distinction.

The African National Congress’ Youth League has demanded that all learners be given an obligatory pass as the situation is stimulated by the government itself, and one of the ruling party’s senior leaders Jeff Radebe has also admitted that his government's failure to deliver textbooks to Limpopo schools was a national shame, adding that the crisis had lead to more questions than answers.

Social media was also abuzz with the textbook situation, with the hashtag #AngieMustGo featuring prominently on most timelines throughout the week.

The Second D-Day:

Eyewitness News arrived in one of Limpopo’s townships, Seshego, early on Wednesday morning to see if books would indeed be delivered and if teachers were at schools to receive those supplies.

The first stop was Letanong Primary, where their Grade R, one, two and three learners - like many others in the province - have been dealing with a shortage of school material. No delivery trucks, no books… just locked gates. Even if books were to arrive it didn’t look like anyone was going to be available to receive them.

We then set off to Bokamoso Senior Secondary School, were there was some activity, Matric students were busy with their winter school programme. It was outside this school that we met 17 year old Thabang Mothiba. He told us they are currently using the previous academic year’s textbooks as opposed to the current syllabus in place, and he doesn’t believe the government will deliver on its promises, adding the school hadn’t requested pupils to come collect any study material. His biggest worry is that setbacks such as this one will hamper his dream of becoming a chartered accountant.

The highlight of our Limpopo visit had to be the warehouse where the books that were meant to be distributed to thousands of learners have been sitting for most of the year. The huge building is filled with busy workers packing boxes into trucks leaving the building as they make their way to the different districts and schools for drop-offs. There we meet the department’s Director General Bobby Soobrayan, who takes the media on a walkthrough to show that things are on track, adding that he was 100% confident that the June 27 deadline would be met.

Soobrayan says Basic Education’s main concerns when it comes to catching up are the Grade 10 learners, for which they have a twofold approach; first finding ways to support learners and teachers - they will provide tuition support for both. The other important factor is to make sure there’s study material which they were finally supplying to the different schools around the province. He also says teachers unions have committed to the catch-up programmes.

The DG also admits that the planning and management after an intervention enforced by the Basic Education Minister was bad, he says they all acknowledge that the department was in the wrong and confirms that there will not be a repeat of this year’s problems.

EWN’s last stop is at Polokwane’s Northern Muslim School. There sits Lowe Kruger, the school’s head, ticking off the books as they arrive. Although Kruger says they were fortunate enough to source books on their own, as an educator he is not impressed with the way things played out in his province. Kruger says it’s very unfortunate; children are at the short end of the maladministration of the department and the planning has just been terrible. He also questions how many principals - especially the ones in the rural areas - would be there to receive the books. Kruger wraps up by saying time is water under the bridge, “You can’t take back time”… but all we can do is try.

Whether the Department of Basic Education has actually met the deadline set by the courts and is on their way to regaining the faith of the country in its abilities remains to be seen. As it stands there’s still no confirmation of them having met their deadline.