PEOPLE found liable for the Limpopo textbook crisis should face "stern action" - including criminal charges - says African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.

Following a public backlash over the absence of textbooks at several Limpopo schools this year, the ruling party has admitted that the government has failed the province's pupils.

In a strong, forthright statement, the ANC also blamed the Limpopo government's "reckless behaviour" in failing to plan and budget for the books.

The hard talk will make it difficult for President Jacob Zuma not to remove Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

Of Limpopo's 5297 schools serving 1,7-million pupils, only former Model C schools have not been affected by the nondelivery of textbooks, according to lobby group Section27.

The ANC's national executive committee (NEC) discussed the textbook crisis at its four-day lekgotla, which ended on Sunday. Leaders criticised the Department of Basic Education and the Limpopo education department for their handling of the crisis.

Addressing journalists yesterday on the outcome of the lekgotla, Mr Mantashe said the ANC wanted those found liable for the crisis to face stern action, including criminal charges.

"The NEC acknowledged that this is a serious failure on the part of government, the Department of Basic Education in particular, at both national and provincial level. It is a failure to honour the right of every child to education, as enshrined in the constitution."

The Limpopo education department was one of five in the province whose administration was taken over by the national government in December.

"The fact that by December 2011 no books were ordered, and (there was) no budget for purchasing books, was the first sign that there was a crisis.

"The slow response to this crisis, including waiting for the next financial year, bordered on being reckless," Mr Mantashe said.

The ANC is pushing for the three reports on the crisis and its causes to be "reconciled" and given to Mr Zuma.

"That final report should be the basis for any action to be taken, including action against any person found guilty of any misdemeanour," Mr Mantashe said.

One official in the employ of the Limpopo government has been charged already after the dumping of new textbooks this month.

There have been three investigations of the text books saga - one led by former higher education director-general Mary Metcalfe, another appointed by Mr Zuma, and one appointed by the Limpopo government.

The outcomes of the reports have varied, with Ms Metcalfe blaming the Limpopo education department.

The ANC has criticised Ms Motshekga and there have been calls within the party for her dismissal from the Cabinet.

The NEC suggested a dedicated logistics team be established in Limpopo and be kept in place until next year's textbook delivery cycle. The national department should also take full responsibility for buying books for next year.

Department of Basic Education spokesman Panyaza Lesufi said yesterday there was a plan in place to ensure textbooks were delivered to all provinces next year. He said the department had assessed all provincial plans to ensure the delivery of textbooks and stationery before December.

mkokelis@bdfm.co.za