Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s rescue team in Limpopo allegedly forgot that its deal with textbook publishers, entailing huge discounts since 2012, was due to end this year, publishers told the Mail & Guardian this week. So it did not budget for the full price of the books.
But department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga denied this, saying the Limpopo department “benefited enormously from the reduced textbook prices offered by publishers … We … deny that there was failure by government, and more particularly the Limpopo department, to take advantage of the discounts”.
City Press reported last weekend that the department had bought only half of the 4.3-million textbooks needed for next year. But Mhlanga said only 965 500 more were needed. Those had been ordered and would be delivered to schools in their first week next year.
The rescue team’s head, administrator Mzwandile Matthews, stressed in a letter to publishers two years ago that the “guiding principle” in ordering textbooks for Limpopo “remains the reduced price”.
The Cabinet placed the province’s education department under administration in 2011 after it squandered more than R2-billion and failed to order textbooks for the following year.
“Forensic investigations that followed showed senior officials in the Limpopo department were allegedly responsible for gross mismanagement, a matter that is still following due process whereby these officials are still under investigation,” Mhlanga said.
Missed out on discounts
Publishers this week told the M&G the reported books deficit suggested Matthews had failed to capitalise on its discount deal by ordering all necessary books during the deal’s life span.
“All publishers had made it clear that offers of severely reduced prices was not something that could be offered in perpetuity,” one publisher said.
“In a meeting with publishers [this year], Matthews acknowledged this and agreed that it was fair. The Limpopo prices were a special offer to help the pupils in what was a dire situation.”
Mhlanga confirmed this with the M&G.
But, with the phasing-in of the new curriculum, known as Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (Caps), across all grades nationally, the M&G ascertained that the only books Limpopo, like other provinces, should be supplying at this stage were “top-ups” – that is, books to rectify shortfalls at any schools.
“Remember, in 2011, 2012 and 2013, provinces were buying for the implementation of Caps. They had to ensure that every pupil had a book for every subject he or she takes. In subsequent years provinces should only be topping up,” a publisher said.
“If Limpopo still has so many shortages it can only mean that they were lying in previous years when they said they had bought books for all their pupils.”
“Several politicians have made declarations that all was well in Limpopo, so why are we now hearing of such massive shortages?”
Schools reporting shortages
Many schools in Limpopo operated without their full complement of textbooks this year, said community-based organisation Basic Education for All, which campaigns for the delivery of all textbooks in Limpopo.
“Since the rollout of Caps is now complete, every school should have received all Caps textbooks by now. It’s surprising that we still get schools reporting shortages to us,” said member Tebogo Sephakgamela.
A teacher at Magoza Secondary, a school in Limpopo’s Nkowankowa village, said they battled with a critical shortage of books again this year.
“You find that a grade has 150 pupils, [but] the provincial department brings 50 books. Books are not enough across different subjects.”
Auditor General Kimi Makwetu’s audit of the department shows it incurred R2.2-billion in irregular expenditure in the past financial year.