Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has taken flak for her self-assessment of a near perfect score of her performance in her portfolio.
She was quoted as saying she "would give [herself] an 8", when asked how she would score her annual performance on Thursday.
Motshekga's spokesperson Hope Mokgatlhe defended the minister's statement, saying it was taken out of context.
"It was totally out of context. The context of the question was cut out ... she was talking about her overall performance as a minister," said Mokgatlhe.
"She [Motshekga] mentioned that yes, there is a problem in Limpopo but also remember that it was a major feat [to deliver available textbooks] in the space of six months."
"If she had done really well in Limpopo, she would have given herself 10 out of 10," said Mokgatlhe.
Motshekga argued that she should be judged on the policies she had introduced – and over which she had control – and not the Limpopo textbook crisis alone.
"I don’t deliver workbooks. I am not in the classroom. I don’t know what 12 million learners are doing,” she was quoted as saying.
The department faces several court challenges by rights organisations like Section 27.
Limpopo schools have been without textbooks for over six months while several discoveries of burnt or dumped textbooks have been made across the province.
Some observers close to the process believe the investigation aimed at verifying how many textbooks Limpopo schools have received is not being given an accurate picture.
Led by former higher education director general Mary Metcalfe, the verification team might have to resume its work when schools opened next week, the observers said.
"All of us at [a] meeting [on Wednesday] told the team it would have to go back after the school holidays, because at many schools the boxes of textbooks are unopened and you can't tell if the right type of books or the right amount of books were received," said a source who requested anonymity, saying stakeholders had been told not to speak to the media.
Metcalfe was appointed two weeks ago after Section27, the non-governmental organisation whose court action in May exposed severe inaccuracies in official delivery statistics, and the basic education department agreed that an independent verification was necessary.
The two parties also agreed on Metcalfe's appointment and that her team would measure deliveries at 10% of the province's 4 000 schools.
Under the gaze of stakeholders such as unions, the Congress of South African Students, school governing body associations and the South African Principals' Association, Section27 and the department also agreed on which schools would make up the 10% sample.
But with schools on holiday and many principals away when Metcalfe's team began its work last week, "boxes of textbooks were being received by teachers or security guards", one observer said.
Boxes of textbooks still unopened
"Textbooks are being delivered but some principals are not there because they are away on holiday, so the boxes are being locked in storerooms and are not opened."
Metcalfe and her team "can't get access to these boxes, so they can't verify if they are the right textbooks or the right quantity".
Textbook delivery problems continue to plague some schools, the source said. "I know one school that needed 500 textbooks, but only 300 books were delivered."
Stakeholders at Wednesday's meeting told the team it would "need more time and that it would have to go back after the school holidays", he said. "Metcalfe acknowledged what we were saying."
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday, Metcalfe said the process was "going well: everyone is co-operating; everyone is working hard.
"Our only challenge is time," she said. "We work late into the night and worked over the weekend."
The team was due to present a draft report to basic education director general Bobby Soobrayan and Section27 on July 13 and, once both parties were satisfied, would make its findings public on July 14.