Zuma’s choice: Politics vs pupils

A presidential task team appointed to investigate the textbook crisis in Limpopo will likely recommend that action be taken against Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, but senior ANC leaders say it is unlikely President Jacob Zuma will kick her out of his Cabinet.

The Mail & Guardian has learnt that the committee headed by Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene will report back to Zuma in the next two weeks. A member of the committee, who was not authorised to comment officially, said there appeared to be consensus that Motshekga had to be removed from the department's helm.

"The scandal is unforgivable. Julius Malema was president of the ANC Youth League. He brought the party into disrepute and he was fired. Angie must also go," said the member.

By virtue of her role as ANC Women's League president, Motshekga leads a crucial constituency that will support Zuma's ­re-election as ANC president.

A source in the presidency said: "Like it or not, the president has to take action, but he will be guided by the facts contained in the report.

"He has not met with her yet, but she has apologised to the ANC and has taken steps to rectify the mistake. The president is also of the view that she has done a good job and has not made many mistakes during the last years. She will be shifted [to another department]. She will not be fired.

Severely affected
"You must remember Angie is also the president of the ANC Women's League and is very close to the president," said the presidential insider.

Motshekga this week embarked on a charm offensive as she tried to do damage control in Limpopo, where schools have been severely affected by the failure to deliver textbooks. This followed calls for her dismissal by ANC national executive committee members and the youth league.

The league and the Congress of South African Students threatened to take to the streets and "occupy" the department of basic education if she did not hand in her resignation.

Last weekend Motshekga came under fire during the ANC's lekgotla. National executive committee members who attended told the M&G that Motshekga – to the horror of the committee – presented a "very defensive report". She admitted the saga was a "national crisis" but diverted blame to provincial structures. Senior leaders rubbished her excuse, saying that, as the political head, she was ultimately responsible. They also expressed concern about the damage to the ANC's reputation and the government's efforts.

Other leaders said they believed action also had to be taken against Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale and Limpopo MEC for education Dickson Masemola.

"This government is already under siege. The president does not owe us anything; he owes the people who voted for the party," said one.

An ANC insider described Zuma's investigations as a "whitewash". "They are trying to keep it in Limpopo, but almost every other province has been affected. The ANC even went as far as to tell the Western Cape ANC leaders to shut up when they started making a noise about the non-delivery of textbooks in the [Democratic Alliance-led] province because they didn't want to draw more attention to it. The ANC wants to contain the crisis, but this is serious."

A member of the national executive committee said: "Zuma will have to choose … it's either his political ambitions or the pupils' future."

Motshekga's spokesperson, Panyaza Lesufi, said he was not aware of an intention to relieve the minister of her duties. He said Motshekga had drawn up a comprehensive turnaround strategy to assist schools and had asked the ANC, women's league and Parliament to give her space so she could be in the province on a full-time basis until the situation was stabilised.

Zuma's spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, said he could not anticipate what action the president intended to take.

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