Opposition leader Helen Zille has defended Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, saying that firing her would treat “a symptom” but not address the root causes of the crisis in education.
Motshekga is under unprecedented fire over Limpopo schools still lacking textbooks six months into the school year, and for having missed a court-imposed delivery deadline of June 15.
But while the political buck stops with Motshekga, it is EduSolutions, the company awarded a R320 million contract by the Limpopo government to deliver textbooks, that is now the focus of calls for a thorough investigation.
The DA and social justice advocacy group Section 27 want the company investigated – and ANC MP Hope Malgas, who chairs Parliament’s basic education oversight committee, agrees.
Section 27 was behind the court action that resulted in this month’s deadline for delivery.
Spokeswoman Nicky Stein said no further court action was being planned, despite the deadline having been missed.
Motshekga had promised at a meeting on Thursday that the textbooks would be delivered by Wednesday, she said.
Principals would be told to ask pupils – now on holiday – to collect them on Thursday.
Stein said Section 27 had written to civil society organisation Corruption Watch asking that EduSolutions and the department’s relationship with it be investigated.
Sacked Limpopo education administrator Anis Karodia has alleged that for six weeks Motshekga blocked the cancellation of EduSolutions' contract before agreeing books could be ordered directly from publishers.
The DA’s spokeswoman on education, Annette Lovemore, said she would ask parliamentary questions of Motshekga about her dealings with EduSolutions.’
She would also ask the minister why she had promoted the company, despite a history of “fraud and incompetence”, with the Limpopo Department of Education.
Motshekga had worked with the company since 2008, when she was Gauteng education MEC, Lovemore said.
“The Limpopo government irregularly awarded a R320 million contract to EduSolutions for textbook provision to Limpopo schools,” she said.
“The evaluation and specification committee was ignored at the time the contract was awarded.”
But Zille defended the embattled minister, while agreeing that EduSolutions should be probed.
Zille said the crisis had taken many years to develop and that without Motshekga, “things would probably go from bad to worse”.
“Firing the minister would treat a superficial symptom, but leave the root causes unaddressed,” said Zille, a former Western Cape education MEC.
Motshekga genuinely understood the needs of the school system and was prepared to take tough decisions to fix it, but was undermined, she said.
“She stands virtually alone, in the wasteland of education’s ‘shell state’, where many incompetent cadres masquerade as top officials with fancy titles, but have little understanding of and even less commitment to the needs of education.”
Pressure “from above and below” meant Motshekga was in an “impossible situation”.
Motshekga had been prepared to have teachers and principals sign performance contracts, but had been “forced to back down” by President Jacob Zuma because he did not want to alienate the SA Democratic Teachers Union in the run-up to his bid at Mangaung for a second term as party leader, Zille said.
“(Motshekga) was prevented from exacting accountability from teachers and officials – but must now accept accountability for failing to turn the ailing system around.”
Zille said the collapse of education in several provinces was the result “of 18 years of bad policy, poor planning, and cadre deployment”. No system anywhere “could have survived this toxic combination”.
The “repeated use” of certain companies to deliver services was a “dimension of cadre deployment”. Getting answers to the many questions about EduSolutions could help in “understanding the fiasco of delivery failure in many aspects of education, including textbooks”.
“Who are the directors of this company? Who stands to benefit? And why did this company always emerge as the ‘preferred provider’?” Zille asked.
Malgas said Motshekga was doing “good work” and should not be sacked, but EduSolutions should be probed. She had spoken to Motshekga on Saturday night, and the minister had assured her she would meet the Wednesday deadline.