KZN textbook debacle: Delivering textbooks not the same as delivering washing powder

Tom Stokes, MPP

DA KZN Spokesperson on Education

The delivery of books to schools is a national priority and must be treated as such.

It is not the same as delivering a product such as washing powder to a supermarket.    Failure to deliver the right books to schools, at the right time has a serious knock-on effect on the lives of thousands of learners and ultimately impacts on the future economic prospects of our country.

Yesterday it was discovered that textbooks and workbooks, destined for KwaZulu-Natal schools as far back as March, were in fact lying abandoned in an Empangeni warehouse belonging to UTi Distributors.  The company is contracted by the department of Basic Education to distribute textbooks, not only in this province but around the country.  The textbooks and workbooks have been burnt, shredded or placed in water to reduce them to pulp.

Earlier today, the DA visited the premises.  Unfortunately we were denied access.   At first glance it would appear that the company, UTi is responsible for this mess.  But it has also become clear that local education officials could have done far more to ensure the timeous delivery of books.

The DA has, in its possession, copies of letters sent by the Zululand Remedial Centre to the Department of Education (see attachment).  Dated from as far back as February, they request delivery of Natural Sciences and Technology workbooks.  In April the schools’ principal again notified the department that it did not have the books and also requested workbooks for Social Sciences (English and Afrikaaans).  In May there was a follow-up letter from the principal, asking that the department check to see when the books would be delivered. Finally, on 16 July, the principal sent an update to the school’s SGB, stating that despite numerous phone calls and letters to the department, the school still did not have the required books and had been forced to make copies of notes for learners at its own expense.

It is not a principal’s function to ensure delivery of textbooks or workbooks.  This responsibility lies squarely with the department and the buck stops with the MEC.

Education forms a major part of government’s key national strategy.  In fact it is supposed to be priority number one.  Yet, in this case, the distribution of critical educational resources has been handed over to a company which either lacks the will to do the job or simply does not have the capacity.

The DA firmly believes that companies that tender for contracts that involve the National Development plan should be subjected to strict protocols in order to ensure that they are capable of fulfilling the scope of work for which they are hired.

It is disappointing that while civil society is going out of its way to assist poorly resourced schools – the East Coast Radio Knowledge Box is a case in point – the department and its distributors are not playing their part. There seems to be a cavalier approach to the sourcing of companies to deliver books – with contracts casually handed out – along with a serious lack of protocol around surplus books.  Measures must be taken to correct this.