Mosibudi Mangena
Mosibudi Mangena
How is it that a country that can impress globally in sport, tourism, the economy, technology and other areas can fail so dismally to deliver books to its schools, asks the writer. 	Picture: Mujahid Safodien
How is it that a country that can impress globally in sport, tourism, the economy, technology and other areas can fail so dismally to deliver books to its schools, asks the writer. Picture: Mujahid Safodien

We had just been spellbound during the day, watching phenomenal batting against England by Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith in the first Test of their current tour of that country.

Then in the evening on SABC1, several adults representing the education department at national and provincial levels, an advocacy group, an investigator and a book supplier appear to argue with one another as to why the children of Limpopo do not have textbooks – seven months into their academic year.

Are these wonderful cricketers from the same society that cannot deliver books to its children? Wouldn’t the world be justified in mocking us, saying we might play beautiful cricket but we can’t supply books to our schools? What do our children think of us when we mess up like this?

We are the largest and most sophisticated economy in Africa. We have the longest road network in Africa and consume more electricity than a big group of countries on the continent combined.

SA is the only country in Africa to build and successfully run a nuclear power station. Is that a country that should be unable to give books to its children for the greater part of an academic year?

Using the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, we pioneered the conversion of coal into petrol that is now sought after by the world. Sasol, the technologically sophisticated company at the heart of this process, operates in many countries across the globe.

How come a country that has produced Sasol is unable to execute as mundane a task as putting textbooks in its schools? SA convinced Africa that we could give the continent Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who would help fix the AU Commission.

It is indeed a big ask, but we know that if there is anybody who could give this job her best shot, it is Dlamini-Zuma. We have, on several occasions, deployed our army and police on various missions to support peacekeeping in Africa. By all accounts, our men and women in uniform served with pride and distinction. Would our detractors, if they knew, not mock us for doing so well elsewhere, but for failing to provide our little ones with learning material?

Look at our hosting of the 2010 World Cup. We were technically superb. We built state-of-the-art stadiums in time, organised and executed the broadcasting of the event to all corners of the world without a hitch and provided security and logistics to the entire tournament and its participants.

Manchester United, during their recent tour of our country, sang praises to the beauty of the Moses Mabhida and Cape Town stadiums.

Do all these depict an incompetent country? Certainly not. We are, in fact, a capable middle-income country that should be shamed by this textbook disaster.

But then, why does it happen? Is the government hell-bent on starving our little ones of knowledge? I am quite sure the government is as embarrassed and frustrated as all well-meaning citizens.

The truth is that society is paying the price for the toxic blend of corruption and factionalism within the ANC.

Whereas the party professes its opposition to corruption and its desire to fight this scourge, its efforts are hamstrung by the factional battles raging on in its ranks.

Factionalism is as common a disease among political parties as flu is among humans, but its impact is huge when it afflicts a ruling party.

It exists in most political parties in our country, but society remains largely unaffected because these parties are not in power.

Corruption and factionalism snuggle cozily together, nourishing each other nicely. Appointments of civil servants are made on a partisan basis to punish those outside your faction and reward those within it, and so strengthen your faction.

In such appointments, qualifications, competence and merit count for nothing. Tenders at national, provincial and local levels follow the same pattern. Those government officials who are appointed on the basis of attachment to a faction simply dish out these tenders, not on merit but on how the beneficiaries are connected to the faction. Hence the phenomenon where youngsters who have hardly worked or possess any skills are seen driving around in flashy cars and buying multimillion-rand properties.

So, instead of us improving as our democracy matures, we are deteriorating in municipalities, health, education, public works and other areas.

However, the disadvantaged faction fights back, sabotaging its enemy whenever it can.

How do you explain a phenomenon where education department employees dump school books in rivers, shred stacks of others or simply keep books in warehouses instead of delivering them to schools?

No, our society is not this incompetent, but it is afflicted by the potentially deadly combination of factionalism and corruption. As a result, we are tripping ourselves up and falling where we ought not to be.

l Mosibudi Mangena is a former minister of science and technology, and former president of the Azanian People’s Organisation