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Denial an ‘other force’ to be reckoned with

Next week the basic education department will give us the news about 10% of schools in Limpopo that it should have provided in January to about 100% of schools in the whole country, namely, how many have the new curriculum’s textbooks.

But this week yet another hole was punched clean through whatever remains of its and Minister Angie Motshekga’s credibility when workbooks were found dumped near a dam in Giyani, Limpopo.

Yes, workbooks, not textbooks. Yes, they are the other books Motshekga promised two years ago that every child would have. And yes, workbooks now introduce into this debacle another steaming pile of tender-related questions.

This newspaper revealed 18 months ago that the national department had questions to answer about why it awarded the workbooks tender to the Lebone Group and its partner in this venture, printers Paarl Media.

The tender storm the Mail & Guardian reported on in January 2011 drew official denials of any conflict of interest in the award, despite allegations of personal ties between department officials and Lebone management.

Urgent questions
Even if we believe officialdom’s denials, there remain urgent questions to be answered about the tender. In February this year the M&G raised workbook alarms yet again when it reported complaints from schools around the country that they were still waiting for deliveries, as happened last year as well.

Children waiting for books are at the heart of the textbook misery in Limpopo, so why should we now believe the department’s soothing answer regarding the workbooks back in February?

The reassurances the M&G quoted amounted to the department saying: Don’t worry, 70% of workbooks are in classrooms nationally. The niggling other 30% could not get to classrooms because of “massive flooding” and “significant damage to roads”, it claimed.

After Limpopo, can we believe these figures? Yes, the department’s and Lebone’s workbook performance has been in every way superlative, the official version ran. This too must ring a bell. Last week director general Bobby Soobrayan was still praising to the skies the spectacular official accomplishments in getting some textbooks to some children in some schools in Limpopo some six months late.

Who can now believe any data the national department provides?

Charge of treason
Consider, now, those workbooks abandoned near a dam in Giyani. In terms of them, the department’s chronically buck-passing blame game went into top gear on Monday with a furious denunciation of the dumping as an “act of sabotage”.

But the department stopped well short of identifying the “service providers” at whom it levelled this charge of treason.

Why? Does the department not recall to whom it awarded the workbook tender, one that involves both printing and distribution?

In its fury, the department turned an already muddy picture even filthier by concluding with a chaotic salvo on textbooks (yes, textbooks).

“Some of these service providers are clearly hellbent on embarrassing the ministry,” the department’s statement spluttered.

Serial promises
They are “conniving with other forces to ensure that we fail to meet our [textbook] delivery deadline”. How so? “Last Wednesday [June 27] service providers failed to pitch to deliver textbooks on a very crucial day.”

Well, yes, it was crucial: it was the department’s second deadline, set after it failed to meet the high court’s June 15 deadline.

Which was after the department failed to meet the normal back-to-school January deadline. Which preceded its serial promises to get them into classrooms any day now. Which preceded the non-governmental organisation Section 27 ­losing patience and going to court in May …

So who are the “other forces” conspiring to ensure that the national department fails? Limpopo education department officials? EduSolutions? Lebone? Some local truck drivers? The media?

The department’s media invitation this week to hear Motshekga’s thoughts about a schools Eisteddfod championship on Friday left these questions hanging as well.

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David Macfarlane
Guest Author

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