The deputy minister of finance has admitted that the controversial newspaper advert placed by the department of basic education was ill-conceived.
"As far as looking into whether the ad was necessary is for the auditor-general to decide on. However, we could have set the record straight in a different way instead of putting out an advertisement. The way to have handled it was to deliver those textbooks," Deputy Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene told the Mail & Guardian.
The advert, estimated to have cost R900 000, was placed in newspapers over the weekend and was intended to set the record straight by lambasting non-governmental organisation Section27 for its outcry at the department's failures.
The advert said the actions of Section 27 were "unnecessary and a waste of valuable time and resources". The education department also criticised the media for its disregard for the "enormous nature of the task".
In May Section27 took the department of basic education to court for the non-delivery of textbooks to Limpopo learners. The court ordered that the department meet its deadline of June 15, which was extended to June 27. Many schools in Limpopo reported still not having received textbooks after this date. Section27 again took the department to court in September for not meeting its earlier deadline.
The advert said that the North Gauteng High Court did not find any fault on the part of the department for not delivering the textbooks on time. "Any suggestion made by Section27 of victory from the court judgment, is an attempt to mislead the public. Section27's claim of victory is indeed hollow. The department will continue to work towards normalising and stabilising the situation in Limpopo, a situation that was thrust upon the department."
The department also urged Section27 to work with the department and not against it.
Section27 released a statement in response to the advert, saying it "will not engage in a back-and-forth exchange with the DBE through the media".
It said: "Prior to the most recent court application, Section27 addressed four letters to the DBE requesting information regarding textbook delivery and the catch-up plan. Section27 and a number of other civil society organisations have also addressed two letters to the minister and the director general in the DBE requesting to meet to discuss our serious concerns about basic education. We have never received responses to any of these requests."
The statement said that Section27 was only concerned with ensuring learners are receiving textbooks.
The department's spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi told the Times newspaper on Tuesday that it placed the adverts because its "voice was drowned out" in the media coverage of the scandal .
He said placing the adverts was an "unfortunate route, but what else could we do?"
"It cost us thousands of rands to put the information in the public domain but we feel the media is unfair to us."
Lesufi said when the media reported on the judgment they did not explain what the department had done.
He said the department bought textbooks from Zambia and Swaziland when printers in South Africa could not supply sufficient books.
Social media backlash
Twitter users were scathing in reaction to the department's advert.
@grayam32bn tweeted: "Angie Motshekga advertises her failures" the mind boggles at her stupidity .. you go #Section27!"
"Education dept agrees before court 70K textbooks still not yet delivered in Limpopo, sure Min #AngieMotshekga should be ashamed of herself," tweeted Maremele Nkadimeng @maremelen.
@morubulaZA was a lot more scathing: "Minister of Basic Education won't be fired,but assisted to mess up again,is all about #Mangaung and 2term for JZ. Welcome to Banana Republic".
Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance said it would lodge a formal complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to request an investigation into the advert.
"The propaganda campaign launched by the DBE is not only a waste of public money, but is misleading the public about the North Gauteng High Court ruling on the textbooks matter," the DA said in a statement.
It said that the department appears to have breached two key provisions of the ASA's advertising code, namely section 2.2 Honesty and Section and 22.214.171.124 misleading claims.
"The DBE was dishonest in this assertion as the court did not state that there was no fault on the part of the DBE but rather made no finding as to fault. According to Section27 the court noted the justification offered by the DBE but made no finding with regard to fault, as this was not necessary for the proceedings," the DA said.
"The DBE misled the public by stating in the advert the "perceived non-delivery of Grade 10 textbooks" and the "so-called failure of the department to meet the delivery targets", implying that their failure to deliver and meet targets was a perception.
"This is blatantly misleading as, in their own advert, the DBE state that they conceded to the court that a percentage of Grade 10 textbooks was still to be delivered and that they would complete the outstanding deliveries by October 12 2012.
"The non-delivery and failure to meet deadlines is precisely why the court granted a third court order imposing a new deadline for the complete delivery of textbooks," the DA said.