South Africa's Finance Minister Trevor Manuel attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, in this January 28, 2009 file picture. South Africa is set formally to nominate former Finance Minister Manuel for Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on June 10, 2011, magazine Emerging Markets reported. The magazine cited a "senior and well-placed" source in Pretoria as saying Manuel had won the backing of South Africa President Jacob Zuma and his candidacy would be officially announced on Friday -- the last day for nominations. REUTERS/Pascal Lauener/Files (SWITZERLAND - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS HEADSHOT)

Johannesburg - Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel has slammed the government’s inability to provide textbooks and learning material in Limpopo, calling it one of the “biggest blots” on the country’s democracy.

Addressing a Women’s Month celebration in honour of ANC stalwart Vesta “Ma V” Smith in Newlands on Thursday night, Manuel said a series of questions had to be asked about the Limpopo textbook debacle that dominated headlines this year. The dinner was organised by the Legal Resources Centre and attended by retired and serving judges Arthur Chaskalson, Kate O’Regan and Albie Sachs.

“Let me be clear that one of the biggest blots on the copybook of this democracy has been the debacle around the provisioning of textbooks in Limpopo province that came to a head with court action by an NGO on May 4,” Manuel said. NGO Section 27 took the department to court to force it to deliver the books, after some schools in the province had been without them for seven months.

The NGO also called for Limpopo education MEC Dickson Masemola to be fired.

Manuel, who chairs the National Planning Commission, said the government, especially the provincial government of Limpopo, could not “absolve itself of responsibility”.

“But did teachers not know that by the time a week had elapsed and there were no books to teach with, that there was a problem? Did they not raise this? Did parents not notice that there were no books to cover? No homework to oversee?” asked Manuel.

Manuel called for more accountability, quoting from ZCC Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane’s Easter sermon, in which he said “public servants should be held legally accountable as individuals for their actions”, particularly in matters involving public resources.

Manuel was accompanied by Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile, who on Thursday night said the late delivery of learning materials to schools, especially poor and disadvantaged schools, was harmful to the education of “an African child”.

Manuel also took the time to honour Smith, a member of the ANC who worked closely with Albertina and Walter Sisulu. The 90-year-old Smith also worked for the Legal Resources Centre until her retirement in 1995. “Ma Vesta was known to me before I actually got to meet her because she was cast in our minds as a woman who had the great privilege of being present when the Freedom Charter was adopted [in Kliptown, June 26, 1955],” said Manuel.

He said it was “hurtful” that many apartheid activists were recognised for their sterling work only at their funerals. - Saturday Star