YOU would swear that Limpopo and the national government are run by different political parties. Smug Limpopo politicians are enjoying the bad press Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is receiving because of the scandal around the failure to deliver textbooks to schools in Limpopo.

Politics has so far been the winner in this game, as Limpopo and national politicians compete in the buck-passing exercise.

The African National Congress (ANC) national executive committee has also thrown in its two cents' worth, with secretary-general Gwede Mantashe yesterday saying the committee felt the government had betrayed the children who are yet to receive their books, seven months into the school year.

The question of who is accountable in this sorry saga should not be difficult because it is clear where education competence lies.

It is the duty of provinces to buy textbooks. But the duty to run the administration of education in Limpopo was taken over by the national government in December last year, making it Ms Motshekga's baby to handle.

But books should have been delivered last year already - long before the takeover by the national government - in preparation for the first day of school in January. That means the Limpopo education department is the primary culprit.

Leaving the administration side of the textbook saga aside, what about political accountability?

It is puzzling that Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale is still employed, considering how his government has crashed.

The Cabinet approved the take-over of five provincial departments, which is a statement that the provincial government is dysfunctional. Firing Mr Mathale, or redeploying him, to use ANC-speak, would have been difficult, though.

The way the ANC system is set up does not make it easy to move him out of his position. In the ANC's quasi-federal structures, the national ANC does not have the licence to fire Mr Mathale.

The process to hire and fire premiers is initiated at provincial level, with Luthuli House appointing premiers-elect from a short list provided by a province.

This is because of a decision of the Polokwane conference five years ago, which took away the powers to hire premiers from the party's president.

It was a way to ensure there was democracy in the process of choosing premiers, but the effect is that Luthuli House has become powerless and cannot rein in or remove an underperforming premier.

Mr Mathale is the ANC chairman in Limpopo, which means he is not about to take a decision that will see him moved out of his influential position. Even if it was possible to move him out of the post, he is in a position to anoint his successor for as long as he is provincial chairman.

He has a good grip on the provincial executive committee, which would put together a list of premier candidates.

Politics, instead of common sense about delivering the books, has so far been the winner in the textbook debacle. With the Mangaung election edging closer, President Jacob Zuma is not about to hastily remove Ms Motshekga, a dependable ally. Even those who have suddenly realised that the situation is a crisis are being politically expedient - looking for a tool that can help their Mangaung chances.

They are playing political chess while Limpopo burns.

Limpopo needs visible and drastic leadership change, the kind that was seen in the Eastern Cape in the 1990s. Back to the 1997 example: Nelson Mandela, as head of the ANC and the government, removed Eastern Cape premier Raymond Mhlaba when many services had ground to a halt. The province could not pass on pension fund deductions docked from government employees, as it robbed Peter to pay Paul.

Crucial nongovernmental organisations were not being paid their grants, leaving the poor and the elderly in places like government-backed old-age homes to suffer.

It could not have been an easy decision for Mr Mandela to remove Mr Mhlaba, with whom he spent 26 years on Robben Island.

But he did, replacing him with Makhenkesi Stofile. Enoch Godongwana was also sent back to the Eastern Cape to run the province's finances. Three years later the Eastern Cape's finances had stabilised somewhat, but there were some administrative problems that saw Thabo Mbeki sending troubleshooters there from the national government a couple of times.

Limpopo could benefit from a clean sweep. The state of affairs suggests that the province has been captured by tenderpreneurs and people who have no feelings for the poor children who cannot get a good education, and many who suffer due to poor health services.

Mr Mathale's provincial government is all too happy to see Ms Motshekga, and by extension Mr Zuma - all political enemies - suffer politically.

mkokelis@bdfm.sco.za