South Africa in Textbook War

South Africa schools
Black schools across SA are underfunded

South Africa’s Basic Education minister, Angie Motshekga has come under fire from the country’s main trade union movement following reports that schools do not have textbooks six months into the year.

Schools in Limpopo province still do not have textbooks and several organisations headed to court earlier this month to force government to deliver them.


In May, the High Court in Pretoria ruled the department’s failure to provide textbooks violated the constitution. Motshega denied there was a crisis in education.

Cosatu has now added its voice to the issue and saying it was “dismayed at the ongoing Limpopo textbooks delivery crisis”.

Motshekga has previously apologised to parents and pupils over the non-delivery of textbooks in Limpopo schools, but refused to take the blame.

According to reports, she said: “the delay in textbook delivery (is caused by) issues including cash flow and administrative problems”.

But this is not good enough for Cosatu. According to Cosatu’s Patrick Craven, “the buck passing by the department, relating to this entire debacle is a stark example of what happens when mediocrity and incompetence are institutionalised”.

“The situation in Limpopo aptly demonstrates what happens when the future of working class children is placed in the hands of incompetent government officials and the so-called invisible hand of the market,” he said.

The relationship between the Minister and the textbooks publisher has also come under scrutiny.

Cosatu is demanding an investigation into the business conduct of Edu Solutions.

“We are calling on government to develop its internal capacity to print and deliver materials as opposed to relying on expensive and profit driven companies like Edu Solutions,” Craven said.

Last week a group of civil society organisations also wrote an open letter to Motshekga.

The open letter said: “The difficulties the department and education system face are manifold, which include the appalling state of school infrastructure at township and rural schools across the country, especially in regards to sanitation and the critical shortage of desks and chairs in schools throughout the nation.”

The group has invited the minister to convene an urgent meeting of the relevant role players to discuss a sustainable strategic plan, which moves beyond litigation to address the immediate and long term systemic failures in the provision of the right to education.

The non-governmental organisations acknowledged that Motshekga had inherited many of these problems with her tenure and that post-apartheid South Africa had inherited an unequal education system.

“Yet, 18 years since the right to education was constitutionally entrenched many of the structural inequities remain, some of which are outlined above,” the groups said.

But Motshekga has found an unlikely ally.

According to Independent newspapers, the opposition Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, herself a former MEC for Education in the Western Cape said, “the crisis had taken many years to develop and that without Motshekga, “things would probably go from bad to worse”.

“Firing the minister would treat a superficial symptom, but leave the root causes unaddressed,” she said.