On the very day Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga assured the nation that textbook deliveries to Limpopo schools were already fully under way, only the first batches of books were leaving a Polokwane warehouse.
The warehouse received books from publishers on June 12, according to basic education department documents the Mail & Guardian has seen. This was "the first consignment" to arrive, a departmental official, who showed this newspaper the documents, confirmed.
Two days later, on June 14, Motshekga told a press briefing in Pretoria that deliveries were so well under way that the department would certainly meet the June 15 midnight deadline the North Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg had imposed. But the same documents record that this first consignment of books started being trucked out from the warehouse only on the day of the minister's Pretoria briefing.
When this was put this to director general Bobby Soobrayan this week in Polokwane, he reiterated the explanation Motshekga later gave — on June 22 — to the effect that she had been misled about how advanced deliveries were.
The department beefed up its delivery plans after it missed the high court's June 15 deadline by deploying officials from the national office, Soobrayan said on Wednesday. "Initially, we had planning problems. But what we pulled off from [last week] Friday to now is exceptional."
A further twist
Yet, in a further twist of conflicting claims, a senior member of the publishing industry told the M&G the department had ordered textbooks only in the first week of June.
Soobrayan denied the ordering took place as late as this. "Orders went out way before that," he said.
Pressed to be specific, he said "mid-May". But Nikki Stein of the non-governmental organisation Section 27, said on Tuesday: "Textbooks were definitely yet to be ordered when we went to court in May."
For its part, the Limpopo education department still refused this week to accept responsibility for "misleading" Motshekga's office.
"The minister said she was misled but she didn't say who misled her," said spokesperson Pat Kgomo. "She would know who misled her, but the [provincial education] department couldn't have misled her."
In Seshego township outside Polokwane on Thursday morning, a box of textbooks being delivered to Masedibu Secondary School was its second batch, reliable school sources said. The delivery followed an insufficient batch on Wednesday for which a school official refused to sign.
In Blood River, a rural area about 8km from Seshego, a local school principal said a van driver had called him on Thursday morning to ask him to be available at his school to receive a delivery.
Moloko Rakgole, principal at Lefatane Primary School, said insufficient textbooks were delivered to his school. Rakgole is also a provincial leader of the South African Principals' Association. "Take it from me, I'm liaising with schools in the province," he said.
"Some primary schools are yet to receive their books. Insufficient books have been delivered to many schools."
Six schools the M&G visited on Thursday, four in Seshego and two in Blood River, had issued no textbooks to pupils. "Grade 12 learners are here to participate in winter classes [for which they are paying R320]. There was no arrangement for grade 10 learners," said one teacher.
As the M&G went to print on Thursday, the department's latest delivery data were still under sceptical fire. At a press conference convened in Section27's Johannesburg offices, the department claimed almost 100% delivery. But the NGO's Mark Heywood said: "We fear that some of these reports by the DBE may not be accurate … For example, on [Tuesday this week] we spoke to one school, which is recorded as having received 99.7% of its textbooks. [But] the principal confirmed that no books have been delivered."
And the NGO had "heard a few minutes [before the press conference] from a primary school that has no textbooks", Heywood said.
The department's Panyaza Lesufi claimed "99% of textbooks had been delivered to grade 10 learners and all textbooks [had] been delivered to grades one, two and three".
Section27 called for "an independent verification and inquiry process" on the delivery saga. Lesufi agreed: "An independent verification of the progress reports … is essential." — Additional reporting by Victoria John