THE Department of Basic Education and public-interest law centre Section27 have agreed on Wednesday, June 27, as a new deadline for textbook delivery in Limpopo, while criticism of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga continues to pour in.

The issue has been under scrutiny this week after multiple reports of schools in the province not having received textbooks, in violation of a court-ordered delivery deadline of last Friday.

The North Gauteng High Court last month ordered delivery of the textbooks by June 15, following a court application by Section27.

In a joint statement on Thursday, the Department of Basic Education and Section27 said that after "a constructive meeting", they had agreed to "ensure the availability of textbooks and to do everything reasonable to remedy the situation of non-availability of textbooks over the past six months".

According to the statement, all textbooks will be delivered by June 27. Principals will be told that pupils can collect their textbooks on June 28, allowing them to study during the school holidays.

At a briefing in Limpopo on Friday, Ms Motshekga denied blame and said a number of factors had contributed to the delay. These included cash flow and administrative problems, and the fact the previous administrator had underestimated the magnitude of the deliveries.

Ms Motshekga, who was in Limpopo to meet stakeholders and to apologise for the situation, said she retained faith in her officials and would not resign.

The department had accepted an offer from a private company to help deliver the textbooks, and a "comprehensive" catch-up plan for pupils was being developed, she said.

On Wednesday, the minister had expressed dismay over the reports of non-delivery. She said her department had received assurances from its service providers that the books would be delivered on time, adding that a full investigation into the delay would take place.

CRITICISM MOUNTS

Meanwhile, criticism of Ms Motshekga and the Limpopo education department mounted.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) said on Thursday that the minister had declined an offer by the party to pay for vehicles to deliver the books, adding that Ms Motshekga's "pride" overshadowed the interest of pupils.

"Books still need to be transported from Polokwane to yet more warehouses in five Limpopo education districts," DA national spokesman Mmusi Maimane said. "Only then can the books be delivered to the 5000 schools without them."

The department was already seven months behind schedule and the minister should be doing all she can to deliver the textbooks, which included accepting the DA offer, he said.

DA basic education spokeswoman Annette Lovemore called for an independent inquiry into the handling of the matter, saying Ms Motshekga's reaction has been "inexcusable".

The African National Congress Youth League in the province on Thursday issued a demand that all affected pupils receive a "free pass" for the year. "The lack of learner support materials, particularly textbooks, (causes) a lot of misfortune to learners in grades 11 and 12," said spokesman Klaas Nono Mabunda.

The education branch of the National Union of Public Service & Allied Workers (Nupsaw) on Friday called for Ms Motshekga's dismissal, saying it rejected her "blatant arrogance" in calling for teachers and pupils to collect their textbooks.

With SAPA

gernetzkyk@bdfm.co.za