Political Bureau

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 thoroughgoing investigation.

Both 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 being missed.

She said Motshekga had promised at a meeting last Thursday the textbooks would all be delivered by Wednesday. Principals would be told to ask pupils – currently 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. Malgas agreed that the company should be probed.

Sacked Limpopo education administrator Anis Karodia has claimed that Motshekga had, for six weeks, blocked the cancellation of EduSolution’s contract before agreeing that books could be ordered directly from publishers.

DA education spokeswoman Annette Lovemore said she would ask parliamentary questions of Motshekga about her dealings with EduSolutions and why she had promoted the company, despite a history of “fraud and incompetence”, with the Limpopo Education Department.

“Nothing short of a full investigation is needed into the relationship between Motshekga and a shady company contracted to deliver textbooks.”

Lovemore said Motshekga had worked with the company since 2008, while still Gauteng Education MEC.

“The Limpopo government irregularly awarded a R320m contract to EduSolutions for textbook provision to Limpopo schools.

“The evaluation and specification committee was ignored at the time the contract was awarded,” Lovemore said.

But her party’s leader defended the embattled minister, while agreeing 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.”

She said Motshekga genuinely understood the needs of the school system and was prepared to take tough decisions to fix it, but was undermined.

“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,” Zille said.

Pressure “from above and below” meant Motshekga was in an “impossible situation”.

While prepared to have teachers and principals sign performance contracts, Motshekga was “forced to back down” by President Jacob Zuma, who did not want to alienate the support of teachers’ union Sadtu in the run-up to his bid for a second term as party boss at Mangaung, Zille claimed.

“She was prevented from exacting accountability from teachers and officials – but must now accept accountability for failing to turn the ailing system around.”

The collapse of education in several provinces was the result “of 18 years of bad policy, poor planning, and cadre deployment”.