Section27 challenges department to stop 'lying' about textbooks

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga (Oupa Nkosi)

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga (Oupa Nkosi)

A press briefing held in Johannesburg on Thursday became a platform through which non-governmental organisation Section 27, two parents and Solly Tshitangano, the dismissed former chief financial officer in the Limpopo department of education, challenged the department to come clean about textbook shortages in Limpopo.

"What we’re saying is that our schools are in crisis and the department is not taking responsibility," Solanga Milambo, a parent from Giyani in Limpopo told reporters.

Section 27 is taking the basic education department to the North Gauteng High Court for the second time in four months over non-delivery of textbooks.

In May it won a court order that compelled the department to deliver all textbooks for learners in grades R to three and grade 10, which started a new CAPS curriculum this year. But Section27 argued in court papers that some schools are still without the textbooks, eight months after the current schooling year started.

Nikki Stein, an attorney for Section27, said going back to court is a last resort action for them. "Courts are not always the best answer," she said.

“[However], the future of our children is at stake unless books are delivered; right and relevant books," said Tondani Lydia Masiphephethu, a parent of two pupils and the chairperson of the school governing body at Lutandale Primary School.

Masiphephethu, a third applicant in the Section 27 case, argued in court papers that Lutandale has received no textbooks for its learners in grades one, two and three.

Milambo said information he has collated from 28 schools, eight of which he physically visited and 20 he telephoned in the Mopani and Vhembe regions, show discrepancies in textbooks supply.

While some of these schools have not received the books, others were supplied with insufficient quantities, Milambo said. Some of the books are also not the books that were originally ordered, he added.

Books supplied to Limpopo schools this year are not what teachers selected from the national catalogue, the Mail & Guardian reported in July. Unlike their counterparts in other provinces, Limpopo teachers will not be allowed to select their preferred curriculum-aligned textbooks for use next year.  Curriculum experts and the department itself recommend that teachers must select textbooks they prefer to use in class. 

Milambo, who described himself as a community activist, told the M&G that primary schools were worst affected. "Primary schools are more disadvantaged because they do not need textbooks for a single grade [to implement CAPS], compared to high schools that need the books only for grade 10 classes.

"But you find primary schools that received just 10 books per grade [in grades one, two and three]. These books are being used by teachers and not given to learners," said Milambo.

The basic education department has maintained it delivered the textbooks in June, following judge Jody Kollapen's court order. It has indicated it would oppose Section27's court application.

Milambo said: "What the department is saying is green lies. You can't say you have delivered while you only delivered 10 books and [delivered] wrong titles. I can go with them to schools I've been to and show them what they are saying is not true."

Tshitangano said the department would defend the indefensible in court, and waste much-needed money in the process. "We hope that the department would come to its senses and realise that Section 27 is not against the government, or parents are against the government."

Tshitangano is widely regarded as the whistleblower that exposed corruption in the now-terminated textbooks distribution and warehousing tender that the controversial company EduSolutions scored from the Limpopo education department.

But it is alleged that his efforts cost him his job as acting chief financial officer in the department and he's now embroiled in a labour court dispute with the basic education department.

Section 27 and parents' action was aimed at helping get textbooks to schools, said Tshitangano. The meetings Minister Angie Motshekga recently had with principals across Limpopo were "just about [the minister] telling them that we're your employers and if you tell Section 27 [about the patchy textbooks supply] you will be fired".

The NGO has repeatedly said Limpopo principals are afraid of talking about textbooks because they have been threatened with dismissals. "Why [is the department] doing that?" Tshitangano asked. "It's because they didn't deliver and that's why Section 27 is going back to court."

The application, which Section 27 wants to be heard late in September, will seek a court order that would compel the department to "complete the delivery of textbooks for the 2012 academic year in all learning areas to all schools" in Limpopo by October 31.

In addition, the order should direct the minister to complete delivery of all textbooks for all grades for 2013 by January 9;  provide monthly reports to court on procurement and delivery of those textbooks; and also compel the department to submit to the court a curriculum catch-up plan that will continue in 2013.

Bongani Nkosi

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