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Department to appeal textbook ruling

Govt wants the Constitutional Court to overturn a finding that it violated pupils’ rights to education.

The Constitutional Court in Johannesburg is set to decide on a government application to appeal a ruling on textbooks. Picture: Lesego Ngobeni/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The Department of Basic Education says it will approach the Constitutional Court to set aside a High Court ruling which found that it violated pupils' rights by not delivering textbooks on time.

Last month, the High Court in Pretoria ruled in favour of an application brought by lobby group Section 27 acting on behalf of community-based organisation Basic Education for All as well as 29 Limpopo schools.

Government was ordered to pay back all the costs of the case and was given strict deadlines to ensure delivery to all pupils in the future.

But the department says Judge Neil Tuchten approached the case from the wrong direction.

"We feel that the test that he applied was incorrect," says department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga.

"The one that he should have applied is whether the state had complied with its obligation to provide basic education and whether we had taken reasonable steps to ensure that all the learners had read the books before learning could begin."

Mhlanga argues that the department did everything in its power to ensure delivery to as many pupils as possible.

Section 27, which saw the ruling as a major victory, now faces a reversal if the Constitutional Court agrees to take the matter on appeal.

But the group's Mark Heywood says it is yet to make a decision on whether to oppose the department's application for leave to appeal.

"It may well be a very good thing for the Constitutional Court to decide on this matter because we really need a clear, supreme pronouncement on what is the government's duty when it comes to providing children with books."

Heywood says the court could also clarify the state's broader duties in terms of providing basic education.

He says the group is studying the application closely with counsel and will make a decision on its response within the next 48 hours.