I was shocked today to see media reports that Basic Education Angie Motshekga tried to shift the blame for the mess she created, suggesting that services providers of textbooks in the Limpopo province had tried to sabotage her department.
Panyaza Lesufi, spokesperson for the Department of Basic Education, released a statement on today (2 July) saying Motshekga was “truly saddened that some service providers who had been assigned to deliver Grade 8 and 9 workbooks in Limpopo, have dumped some of the books”. This, said Motshekga, according to Lesufi, was “an act of sabotage” which the minister had since called the police to “arrest these culprits without further delay”.
While I do not condone these acts of sabotage – if they ever exist since the department is itself marred with false and conflicting reports and incompetence, both from the minister herself and the Presidency following their failure to act on reports, as noted by Mail & Guardian last week Friday that Motshekga had actually received a legal opinion early this year and ignored it and thereby failing to cancel the controversial and “probably invalid” EduSolutions contract – I am of the opinion that the government (both the minister and the Presidency) is to blame for this mess.
M&G reported last week that on January 17 Motshekga received a recommendation from Pat Ellis, a senior counsel advocate, that government had to order textbooks outside of the contract with EduSolutions which he found was “probably invalid”. The report indicated that this was ignored until May when it first started to order the books. Even Basic education director general Bobby Soobrayan, according to the report, said the minister “would have been told of the opinion early”.
Besides the legal opinion, the newspaper further reported that as early as last year former head of the department’s intervention team in Limpopo, Anis Karodia, notified Soobrayan and Limpopo basic education MEC Dickson Masemola in a circular that the department had “allocated to a private company (EduSolutions) at an exorbitant tender price that had compromised the department” and that “the company is under investigation and we are not allowed to procure from the said company”. Moreover, departmental whistle-blower, Solly Tshitangano, had reportedly alerted Motshekga in July last year to alleged irregularities in the textbooks tender, reported M&G last week. The newspaper claimed Motshekga was notified of this “alleged irregular transaction in theLimpopo department of education” on 5 July last year.
In an article headlined “Angie was warned” yesterday, City Press also reported and confirmed a M&G report last week that Motshekga had been warned in July last year of the alleged irregularities in the EduSolutions contract. City Press went further to reveal that as early as January last year, Tshitangano had in fact approached the Presidency with a “dossier” which reportedly said at the time that it (the dossier) would receive the “utmost attention”. But nine months later, and “on behalf of the President”, the Presidency, too, had failed to act on the reported irregularity in the EduSolutions’ “probably invalid” contract.
So for Motshekga (and the Presidency) to only now send an investigation team down to Limpopo after reports that service providers had allegedly failed to deliver textbooks as was expected last week and when she in fact failed to heed the legal opinion mentioned and the “dossier” within a reasonable time is quite mind-boggling, if you ask me.
That books had not been received by schools as had been ordered by the Court, resulting in an investigation team sent down to Limpopo to investigate the matter is quite ridiculous (and sort of a non-issue) than the failure to cancel a contract worth millions, if not billions, in time. This is in addition to the fact that the contract itself seems like a fruitless expenditure that could have been avoided but it was not.
While there may be some element of sabotage – as the minister alleges that there are reports “some service providers [were] conniving with other forces to ensure that we [the department] fail to meet our delivery deadline” by failing to “pitch to deliver textbooks on a very crucial day” – this should not be used as the scapegoat for having failed to delivered the textbook late last year in the first place. And it is this failure which the department believes that “some of these service providers are clearly hell bent on embarrassing the Ministry”. One might be forgiven to suspect that Democratic Alliance and Congress of the People might be seen as these “other forces”. This is because DA has been at the forefront, criticising government on its slow pace at the delivery of textbooks in Limpopo.
Marching to the offices of the Limpopo department of education today, DA’s Limpopo Education spokesperson Desiree van der Walt said the protest was in solidarity with children at over 5000 Limpopo schools who have gone six months of the year without textbooks. Van der Walt also demanded, among others, that all textbooks for 2013 be delivered to schools no later than 30 November 2012. She welcomed the appointment of Professor Mary Metcalf, the former director-general of Higher Education, to assist with the textbook verification process.
Metcalf was appointed last week by the department after concern about reports that the books “may not have reached all schools” in Limpopo. According to the department Metcalf assist with the verification of the information that the Department has with regard to the distribution of these learning materials to learners in Grades 1, 2, 3 and 10 in the province. A call centre had also been set up to deal with all reports from the public with regard to any information of schools in Limpopo that have not received any learning material, said Lesufi in a statement today.
COSAS Limpopo provincial secretary, Resenga Shibambo, accused Motshekga of forgetting “our text books until she was reprimanded by high court”. She called for her resignation because “politicians don’t forget and what kind of a mother forget her children basic needs”. “We demand she must be taken out of hat office before the end of September this year because under her leadership we didn’t experience any educational transformation but a vicious circle of problems”. She urged political heads in the province that instead of buying groceries, they should use the “blue lights… to deliver books to our schools in time”.
Cope also criticised government for delivering books that were never ordered. Ravhuanzwo Tshilidzi MPL, COPE Whip in the Limpopo legislature and COPEWM chairperson said: “This is very common in almost all the regions that schools do receive what they have not ordered.”
Last week Friday about 129 schools had not received their textbooks, according to Annette Lovemore MP, DA Shadow Minister of Basic Education. This is despite an agreement reached between the department and non-government organisation, Section27, that all textbooks would be delivered to all schools by or on Wednesday, 27 June.
As I have argued previously, it was quite surprising – in fact it was shocking – that the ruling party, ANC, had failed to take to the streets as it did with The Spear to boycott Motshekga and her department for failing to deliver textbooks for pupils in Limpopo. Or may have this was not surprising because Limpopo is not run by DA? This is because had this been the case, one wondered what the reaction would have been. So it was further shocking (or maybe this should have been expected?) that the very same ANC criticised DA over its march regarding the Limpopo textbook saga.
ANC’s Moloto Mothapo, Head of Media & Communications, ANC Parliamentary Caucus, said although “officials responsible for this situation must face disciplinary measures”, that it was “satisfied with the great efforts made by the department of basic education to arrest the situation by ensuring that not only do learners across the province receive these important learning materials, but are also assisted through a catch-up programme” and that the proposed national education summit in conjunction with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the department would “comprehensively tackle all educational challenges the country might be facing and emerge with concrete recommendations so that these challenges do not recur – it, however, rejected DA’s planned march.
Moloto said the march was “opportunistic and unhelpful”, adding that oppositions parties [DA and Cope] was this “situation as a great opportunity to score few political points”. He said: “If indeed the DA cared about the education of children, it would not be closing 27 schools in the Western Cape. Rather than close the so-called “under- performing” schools as a means to doctor the province’s matric pass rate, the DA should be assisting those schools attain better results. The closure of schools in that province follows hot on the heels of ugly protests by community members over the shortage of class rooms and schools overcrowding in Grabouw in the Western Cape.”
Moloto said instead of closing the schools, DA should rather direct “its energies to resolving these education problems facing its own province, rather than conduct a march in a province where problems are already receiving appropriate attention.”
Or maybe it is Motshekga, Soobrayan and President Jacob Zuma who should ACTUALLY be arrested for the Limpopo textbooks mess because not only were they notified of it almost a year ago, but that they ignored it and left it to what it now has become today?