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Limpopo back in court over lack of textbooks

In a disturbing rerun of the worst textbooks crisis in democratic South Africa's history, the Limpopo education department is due to find itself in court on Tuesday on exactly the same grounds as in 2012: failure to deliver textbooks to thousands of pupils.

Once again it is Section 27 representing 18 schools and Limpopo-based rights organisation Basic Education For All (Befa).

In a further twist, the Mail & Guardian has discovered that four schools named as applicants in the case withdrew from it, allegedly under severe pressure from government.

"During the first court action in 2012, principals and teachers were intimidated into not talking to lawyers or the media about problems at their schools, but the intimidation must be very severe if even school governing bodies whose members are not employed by the department are too scared to speak out," said Befa member and first applicant​ Tebogo Sephakgamela.

"My founding affidavit was filed in court on Friday on behalf of Befa and 22 school governing bodies, but over the weekend four of those pulled out of the case and I suspect that it must be from personal threats by the department."

The case is due to be heard in the Pretoria high court on Tuesday at 10am.

Section 27 first went to court in May 2012 because thousands of grades one, two, three and 10 pupils had not received textbooks for the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (Caps) curriculum, which was introduced for the first time that year to those grades only. It secured a court order forcing the department to deliver the textbooks, but this was not complied with. Over the next six months, the organisation had to go back to court twice and secured court orders both times forcing the department to deliver outstanding textbooks for 2012 by October that year and deliver textbooks for 2013 by December that same year.

Shortages continue
Despite this, some schools in the province never received all of their textbooks for 2012 and, Sephakgamela's founding affidavit states, the shortages continued into 2013.

Sephakgamela estimates that about 20 000 pupils have been affected by the non-delivery this year.

"What I know about the Caps curriculum is that it requires pupils to work more closely with textbooks. Without books pupils can't do this and they can't do their homework. They also can't follow in class. Teachers also have to borrow books from neighbouring schools, write out sections of the books on the blackboard or photocopy the books. That is a waste of time and money," he said.

When schools tried to report these problems to the department, he said, they were "sent from pillar to post".

His founding affidavit mentions the alleged intimidation numerous times.

"Some of the schools listed in paragraph 12 above are not applicants to this case. The reason for this is that the teachers, principals and members of school governing bodies fear repercussions by the department of basic education and the Limpopo department of education for their involvement in this case," it said. "In particular, they have reported threats of disciplinary proceedings if they institute legal proceedings against [government]. As such, they have declined to act as applicants in this case."

Basic education department spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi said schools have the department's full support.

"They must not fear coming to us [about problems at their schools]. If there is evidence of intimidation we request that they contact us about this," he said.

Rights violation
Section 27 said in a press release on Monday that there are currently 39 schools in Limpopo whose textbooks shortages have been drawn to the attention of the basic education department and the provincial department, but have not yet been addressed. They are not all applicants in the case.

The organisation is seeking an order declaring that government has "violated the rights to basic education, dignity and equality, compelling full textbook delivery to the 39 schools by April 7 2014, which is the first day of the second school term, and directing the government to develop and file a plan by April 10 2014 as to how they intend to address the remaining textbooks shortages at schools throughout Limpopo".

Lesufi said the applicants and Section 27 "unfortunately rushed to go to court without exhausting internal processes".

"We have just done an audit … of the paper trail to see if these schools lodged complaints with department [and we found that] they never lodged complaints," he said.

There was no need to waste court time on an issue like this, he said, because the department had actually "overstocked" on textbooks.

"We have a surplus of 95 000 books in our warehouse that can go to schools. In January we asked schools to give us the new numbers of learners … these schools did not submit that information. Section 27 congratulated us for delivery in January and said they would come back to us [if there were problems]. They didn't come back to us, and we will raise that in court," he said.

"There is no single school that has never received a textbook in Limpopo, what we are talking about here is top-ups [of textbooks]."

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Victoria John
Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011.

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