The industry receives approximately R1.5-billion each year from the basic education department’s textbook orders and will collapse – taking with it 19 000 jobs – if the ANC’s proposal is instituted, the Publishers’ Association of South Africa told the Mail & Guardian.
The party’s policy discussion document on education proposed the “establishment of a state-owned publishing enterprise”.
The submission by the party’s subcommittee on education and health stated: “the country experiences challenges in the production, distribution and availability of textbooks and other instruments or vehicles of knowledge production”.
“Our methods and practice of acquisition from the private sector plus distribution in government are, in some cases, neither cost-effective nor efficient,” it read.
But the association’s executive director, Brian Wafawarowa, said that not only would this “cause the collapse” of publishing companies, but the problems experienced annually around textbooks would remain unsolved.
“Orders from the department for school textbooks make up 54% of publishers’ annual turnover,” he said. “And the remaining 46% would be compromised, because the publishing of other types of books relies on the income from textbooks.”
‘The wrong solution’
The state wants to address problems associated with the delays in the production and distribution of textbooks and prices, he said, but these “fall at the department’s feet … and none of those would be solved by state publishing”.
He slated the ruling party’s proposal saying it was “the wrong solution for the wrong diagnosis of the problem”.
“It is disingenuous of anyone in the state to say publishers are responsible for the delays. It usually takes 18 months to produce a book. But publishers come to the fore and produce it in five months,” he said.
Publishers have to work with that time frame because orders come in late from the department, Wafawarowa said.
“I have known people who have collapsed at publishing companies because they have been under so much pressure.”
The country’s school curriculum changed often, he said, warranting new textbooks, the prices of which were pushed up due to “new development costs”.
There was a “lack of coordination” between the department and publishers when it came to ordering textbooks, he said.
“If all the orders came in at the same time we could produce textbooks in bulk which would bring down the price … but this does not happen.”
Wafawarowa warned of dismal track records in other countries of state publishing.
“Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe all went the state route. They saw the collapse of state publishing and then the rebuilding of the textbook publishing industry. It was an arduous process.”
South Africa already had a poor example of state publishing, he said.
“The department produces workbooks for all the schools which is [a process] fraught with problems.”
Instead of nationalising the school textbook industry he called for dialogue between the department and publishers about the “problems stifling the production of textbooks”.
Every year the M&G and other media report on the desperate plight of learners who, due to the bungle of the production and delivery of textbooks to schools across the country, start school without them. Many schools receive textbooks months after the start of the school year, some receive the wrong textbooks, and others do not receive textbooks at all because provincial departments have not placed orders for them.
Last week the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ruled that the basic education department’s failure to provide textbooks for over a million Limpopo learners violated the Constitution.
Rights organisation Section 27 launched an urgent application at the court against the minister of basic education and the Limpopo department of education earlier this month in relation to their failure to procure and deliver textbooks for Limpopo learners.
The court ordered the department to devise a catch-up plan to remedy the consequences of its delay in supplying teaching material and supply the affected schools with textbooks by mid-June.
The ruling party has cautioned that the suggestion for nationalisation is “just a proposal right now”.
The chair of the ANC national executive committee’s subcommittee on health and education, Zweli Mkhize, told the M&G that contributions to the proposal were welcome.
“Organised labour, school governing bodies, academics, publishers and other stakeholders are welcome to give their input,” he said.
The proposal was put forward because it was the ANC’s “intention to improve the quality of education in South Africa and to deal with problems around textbooks”, he said.
The cost-effectiveness of the current procurement and delivery of textbooks needs to be reviewed, he added.
The proposal would be debated at the ANC policy conference, to be held in Johannesburg next month.
The department of basic education has welcomed the proposal.
“We support the idea. We are tired that every year there are schools that don’t get textbooks,” said spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi.
“We want to take control so that if someone blames us for late delivery of textbooks or no delivery we know it is our fault. We want to ensure that every learner gets the textbooks it needs.”