After apologising for the late delivery of textbooks in Limpopo, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is in for another tough week as the DA and Cope demand answers on why textbooks are being shredded.
The DA has already called for her resignation if she is unable to promise that the late delivery fiasco will never be repeated. This is after SECTION27 got an order in the Pretoria High Court instructing the department to deliver textbooks and implement a catch-up plan.
And now both parties have questioned the wisdom of shredding textbooks that could be used as reference material or to stock libraries in the province.
“The contractor that is destroying the books is claiming to have been paid by the government to do so. It raises some urgent questions about the failed textbook delivery programme in Limpopo,” DA Limpopo education spokeswoman Desiree van der Walt said.
The textbooks include economics, biology, maths, accounting and physical science books and Northern Sotho literature books.
“The provincial administration should explain the waste… whether they are serving the people or their own agendas. Resources are very scarce and should be utilised with a lot of responsibility and care,” said Cope Limpopo whip Tshilidzi Ravhuanzwo.
Education Department spokeswoman Hope Mokgatlhe confirmed that the department was destroying textbooks, but said they were “unusable and unrecyclable”.
“There is a disposal policy for books with a lifespan of more that 10 years,” she said. Most were unusable because they either had missing pages or had been “mutilated” by pupil use.
“They can’t be used, not even as reference books. This comes at an unfortunate time, but these issues are unrelated to the delivery of textbooks in the province,” she said.
But some schools had “inadvertently” sent unused exercise books for destruction, and they were now being returned, she added.
Asked about claims from the DA and Cope that some of the textbooks were still in their original packaging, Mokgatlhe said the official who visited the site found only old books.
Motshekga’s department is facing a litany of court cases – perhaps the most it has ever seen – from NGOs in the education sector.
The Legal Resource Centre’s Sarah Sephton, who has been involved in many of the Eastern Cape court battles, believes the anger of schools and communities over the late delivery of furniture and books, the Eeastern Cape teacher debacle and infrastructure problems has reached boiling point.
“People are fed up and schools are unable to resolve these problems on their own,” she said.
Speaking at a press conference held at a Polokwane textbook warehouse on Friday, Motshekga was adamant that her department was not in crisis and balked at a suggestion that she resign over the textbook debacle.
“The best I can do is sort out what I started. I won’t jump ship,” she said.
Motshekga was confident that the textbooks would be delivered by Wednesday.
Responding to questions from The Sunday Independent, Education Department spokesman Panyaza Lesufi said pupils would not be adversely affected by the late delivery of textbooks.
“It is crucial to indicate that despite the late delivery of textbooks learners in Grades 1 to 3 were provided with workbooks, and Grade 10 were provided with maths and science textbooks. All other grades… had textbooks, workbooks and other related support material,” he said.
“Furthermore… teachers indicated they had been able to cover the academic work of both the first and the second term,” he said.
The infrastructure battle is just beginning.
Lesufi said he did not have details on why the department had missed two extensions to file papers in the equal education minimum norms and standards case.
Lesufi said there was “overwhelming evidence” that the department is not in chaos.
“In terms of access over 80 percent of learners in Grade1 have gone through the Early Childhood Development Programme and over 98 percent of learners have access in the basic education system. The National Senior Certificate results have improved over the past three years from 67 percent in 2009 to 72.7 percent in 2011.”