Editorial: Thunder, smoke and mirrors
As the Limpopo textbooks crisis deepens, the loudest government noises this week thundered from stable doors being heavily slammed shut ...
... long after the horses had bolted.
At the other end of the decibel scale, the government also pussyfooted silently around those who are paid hundreds of millions of rand to protect the horses. Why?
The thunder from on high comes from the three parallel investigations the government promises will tell it, and us, all we wanted to know about the crisis. But there is ample evidence that the government has known for months about the rot – despite Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s increasingly desperate protestations to the contrary.
We report this week that, by presidential proclamation in March, the special investigating unit started looking into a tender-related debacle in the Limpopo education department. A month later, the unit delivered a scathing report, listing minutely detailed questions about officials it named and about the government’s favoured service provider, EduSolutions – which is paid hundreds of millions of rands to deliver textbooks, stationery and other classroom basics to four provinces.
Yet the unit’s report could hardly have been the first revelation for Motshekga and her top officials that they had a crisis on their hands. For a start, this newspaper reported on December 23 that, when the school year opened in January, children in grades one, two, three and 10 in Limpopo would have to learn the new curriculum without textbooks, and our January follow-up confirmed this.
It is now patently clear that, even before December, the national department had abdicated one if its functions – to gather, monitor and check data from the provinces.
Motshekga meets the nine provincial education ministers every month, a practice former minister Kader Asmal began more than a decade ago precisely to hold the provinces to account. So what went down in, say, the December meeting? In the November one? Was there silence on the subject from Motshekga and her comrades in the provinces, whom the national administration would prefer to keep happy? If so, what explains the deafening government silences about private sector culprits in the textbook fiasco?
Fulminating that sabotage and conspiracy explain the delivery failures, the same government heavyweights now calling for a bloodbath among lower-level officials in the provinces also managed this week to avoid naming any “service providers” – the bland phrase that has reverberated unhelpfully for weeks.
But the providers are known and they neither appoint nor pay themselves. Is the closeness we report this week between African Access, EduSolutions’s holding company, and President Jacob Zuma the reason that Motshekga and others beholden to him have been keeping so quiet?
We doubt that any additional value will come from the investigations now under way into what the government must – and should – have known many months ago.
In the empty but thunderous piece of political theatre that these “investigations” amount to, will anyone in government ultimately be held accountable?