By Chantelle Benjamin
It’s back to court for Section27 and the National Department of Basic Education, with the lobby group saying it will lodge papers in the North Gauteng High Court in the next few weeks after trying “everything not to return to court, but it has become apparent that it’s inevitable”, according to the group’s spokesperson Mark Heywood.
Section27 is turning to the court to ask for copies of the documents on which the national department based its report to parliament that nearly all outstanding textbooks had been delivered in Limpopo. It is presently drafting papers and expects to lodge them in the next few weeks.
Heywood told Corruption Watch that reports from some schools in the province told a different story. A random review of 14 schools indicated that some still had not received any books, and a significant number had not received all the books that they requested by Wednesday 15 August.
Section27’s concerns about departmental data are not unfounded. The group appealed for, and received, an independent report written by Prof Mary Metcalfe in July, after it questioned figures provided by the department that 98% of the ordered textbooks had been delivered to schools.
Metcalfe found that by 3 July, 98% of ordered books had been delivered to district warehouses, but only 48% had been delivered to the schools. Metcalfe heads a task team appointed by the department to investigate the textbook non-delivery. She is a former Gauteng education MEC and former higher education director-general.
For its part, this week the department criticised opposition to its catch-up plan as obstructive, and insisted that all book orders that came through official channels, including the hotline set up by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, had been received by schools.
It also insists that teaching has continued in the province, despite the lack of textbooks. In addition, it says, some textbooks are the same as those used in the previous year, so they could be re-used.
No breakdown from department
But Heywood retorted: “Section27 has no independent means of verifying these figures because it’s not receiving a breakdown from the department. The Gauteng North High Court [Judge Jody Kollapen] ruling made provision for us to return to court if we were not satisfied with what had been submitted to us and we intend to exercise that right.”
On Tuesday 14 August department director-general Bobby Soobrayan told parliament that of 1 265 677 textbooks ordered, 1 236 554 had been delivered to schools, the bulk of which were for grade 10 pupils. The parliamentary committee was told that the only outstanding deliveries were on back orders in the languages of Xitsonga, Sepedi and Tshivenda in lower grades.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj said the president had asked the presidental task team headed by Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene to “conclude its investigation into the failure to deliver textbooks to the province as soon as possible”.
Maharaj was speaking from Zimbabwe, where he was accompanying President Jacob Zuma on an official visit. “We don’t want them to rush the process, but the president wants the matter to be concluded as quickly as possible,” he said.
“He has seen the interim report, which he received on 30 July, and he ordered that interim measures are undertaken in the meantime, including that the minister work with [the] treasury to ensure that adequate resources are made available to ensure that textbooks are ordered and delivered on time for next year, in Limpopo and other provinces.”
Bill is being finalised
Zuma also directed that while a new Bill, the Monitoring, Support and Intervention Bill was being finalised, a special protocol needed to be developed to manage relations between the national and provincial government to ensure that service delivery could go ahead.
Maharaj added that the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs was finalising the Bill to provide clarity on intervention by the national government at provincial level.
“The draft [the Monitoring, Support and Intervention Bill] needs to go before [the] Cabinet urgently,” he said. “There is presently no law that outlines exactly how [intervention in provinces] should be done and this has created gaps and relationship problems.”
Meanwhile, Heywood said Section27 was critical of the department’s catch-up plan, intended to help learners make up the nearly eight months of their academic year spent without textbooks.
A slightly revised plan was accepted by the National Assembly’s basic education committee on Tuesday 14 August. It includes using community radio and television to broadcast teaching materials, and holiday camps, educational supplements carried in media, and extra science and maths tuition.
Heywood told Corruption Watch that the plan lacked substantial information and included part of the department’s enrichment programme to assist matrics, which was supposed to have been carried out any way. “It includes tuition targeted at matrics, which should be going on any way,” he said.
Soobrayan said the approval “vindicated the department”.
Under national administration
The education department and four other departments in Limpopo were placed under national administration at the end of 2011 after it became apparent that the province was in dire financial straits. The provincial education department was at least R1.3-billion over budget and unable to order textbooks.
In the meantime, while heated debate continues about who is to blame for the disaster in Limpopo, the real losers in this saga are the pupils who are eight months into the year without many of the required textbooks.