THE South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has absolved itself of responsibility for the dismal state of SA's education system, saying its only duty is to represent its members.

Criticism of the education system is often directed at Sadtu, a Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) affiliate with about 250000 members.

A report released yesterday said the Department of Basic Education had failed to comply with a court order to deliver textbooks to Limpopo schools - only 15% were delivered by the June deadline imposed by a court.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said recently the federation had to account for its silence as Limpopo pupils suffered for months without textbooks. But Sadtu vehemently disagreed.

Its general secretary Mugwena Maluleke described Mr Vavi's comments as "unfortunate" in an interview yesterday. He said Sadtu had been "on the front lines", trying to resolve the issue, but was told schools merely needed a "top-up" of textbooks. The union supported the probe into the nondelivery of textbooks and held the ministry and Department of Basic Education responsible. He said the two probes into the problem would reveal whether "politics was at play".

The Limpopo education department was one of five provincial departments to be placed under the control of the national government in December last year.

Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale is an ally of expelled African National Congress (ANC) Youth League leader Julius Malema, who was spearheading a campaign for the removal of President Jacob Zuma as ANC president.

Mr Maluleke would not be drawn on whether Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga should resign, saying the probes would uncover who should take the fall.

Sadtu and the national government were also at loggerheads in the Eastern Cape over several issues, such as financial mismanagement.

"It's a concern for our organisation. There are no consequences for corruption, there are no consequences for inefficiency, there are no consequences for negligence by some of the departments, in particular the bureaucracy ," he said.

Mr Maluleke said it was not within Sadtu's mandate to discipline its members - that was the duty of the employer. "Our responsibility is to represent teachers. Representation is not defending a conduct, but it's meant to ensure that the procedures give them a fair hearing," he said.

"Why is the department of education not exercising a right which is there? We must hold the department accountable for the behaviour and the conduct that we see in our schools."

Last year, scores of Sadtu members abandoned their teaching posts to support two members, including a regional office bearer, who appeared in court for assaulting a 17-year-old pupil.

Department of Basic Education spokesman Panyaza Lesufi said it was up to provincial departments to discipline their employees. Provincial MECs could also not be fired by the national department as they reported to their premiers and not the minister.

marriann@bdfm.co.za