On 29 May 2014, the South African Human Rights Commission (“SAHRC”) released its report on the Delivery of Primary Learning Materials to Schools. Although the report was due on 30 July 2013, and some of its recommendations have been overtaken by the passage of time, the non-delivery of textbooks to schools continues to be a major threat to realization of the right to basic education.

SECTION27 welcomes the confirmation by the SAHRC that textbooks are essential to the realization of the right to basic education, and that the failure at any level to ensure textbook delivery constitutes a violation of the right. With a view to addressing ongoing problems with the delivery of textbooks, the SAHRC made important recommendations, including the following:

  • That a national independent audit of the procurement and delivery process be undertaken to determine precisely where lapses in service delivery lie. In this regard the SAHRC noted that “there is a vast disparity between what government has reported to have been delivered, and reports received from stakeholders operating on the ground.” It is essential that accurate information as to textbooks shortages is secured, and that any problems in the procurement and delivery processes identified, so that these can be addressed without delay;
  • That a separate investigation be undertaken with regard to learners with disabilities and particularly the provision of braille and large print learning materials. In this regard SECTION27 notes with serious concern the continued failure by the Department of Basic Education to procure learning materials in accessible formats for learners with visual impairments. This is an issue that must be addressed urgently;
  • That communication infrastructure urgently be strengthened. In her report following the verification of textbook delivery in 2012, Prof Mary Metcalfe highlighted the link between poor communication infrastructure and poor service delivery. It is crucial that communication infrastructure be improved so as to enable schools to discharge their obligations regarding ordering, delivery, verification and reporting of textbooks shortages.
  • That a national LTSM electronic system be created to track and verify textbook procurement and delivery.
  • That the actions of private service providers be regulated and monitored. This is in line with the requirement under the Public Finance Management Act that where certain responsibilities are outsourced, the responsible government department must still maintain a level of oversight to ensure that the functions are discharged efficiently and effectively. Although service providers are used for textbook procurement and delivery in certain provinces, this does not detract from the obligations on the Department of Basic Education and the provincial education departments to ensure that all learners receive all of their textbooks on time each year.

SECTION27 is concerned and disappointed that the SAHRC did not address the issue of intimidation in its report. SECTION27 maintains that intimidation and victimization of principals, teachers, parents, learners and school governing body members who report textbooks shortages at their schools continues to stand in the way of complete and timeous textbook delivery. SECTION27 continues to receive reports from schools in Limpopo that they have been threatened with disciplinary proceedings if they continue to report textbooks that have not been delivered. We believe that the SAHRC has an obligation to address this.

We are further concerned that the SAHRC appears to hold school principals liable for non-delivery of textbooks through their failure to report textbooks shortages. While we acknowledge that there may be some principals who do not discharge their obligations in full, there are also serious obstacles to reporting, including the poor communication infrastructure referred to by the SAHRC. Intimidation of school principals has also intensified and many of them fear that they will be dismissed if they report textbooks shortages at their schools.

Immediate and effective intervention is required in order to address these obstacles and to prevent victimization of school principals, teachers, parents and learners.

SECTION27 hopes that the recommendations of the SAHRC will be taken forward and measures implemented to address the challenges with textbook procurement and delivery. In this regard we hope that the SAHRC will provide an indication of the time frames within which its recommendations must be implemented, as well as the steps the SAHRC intends to take to monitor implementation of these recommendations.

The recent litigation in the North Gauteng High Court to compel textbook delivery in Limpopo highlights the ongoing challenges with textbook procurement and delivery. In this regard the Department of Basic Education has applied to the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal the judgment and order of Judge Tuchten handed down on 6 May 2014. In that judgment, Tuchten J confirmed that the right to basic education includes the right of every learner to every prescribed textbook, before the start of every school year. Tuchten J held that anything short of this complete and timeous delivery constitutes a violation of the right to basic education.

The Department of Basic Education seeks in their appeal to have this overturned. They argue that they will never be able to deliver every textbook to every learner, and therefore that the Constitution cannot require them to meet an impossible standard.

SECTION27 will be opposing the appeal on behalf of Basic Education for All and the 18 schools that formed part of the urgent application to the North Gauteng High Court to compel textbook delivery. It is hoped that the Constitutional Court will reaffirm the right of every learner to receive every textbook at the start of each school year.

For more information please contact:

Nikki Stein – 082 528 7232 or via email: stein@section27.org.za

Mark Heywood – 083 634 8806 or via email: heywood@section27.org.za