Dumped textbooks “shocked” Motshekga – KZN MEC

Higher education minister, Blade Nzimande (R) seen with basic education minister, Angie Motshekga and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe during 2012 Teachers Awards
File// Basic education minister, Angie Motshekga (centre) seen with higher education minister, Blade Nzimande (R) and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe during 2012 Teachers Awards. Pic: GCIS

By Bhekisisa Mncube

Durban – The South African Police Service (SAPS) in KwaZulu-Natal has opened a docket for malicious damage to property following the discovery of dumped workbooks/textbooks in Empangeni, 149km away from Durban.

“We can confirm that the Empangeni Cluster Detective Branch is investigating a case of malicious damage to property. Our investigation is in the early stage but we have done some preliminary interviews. The complainant is the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education,” SAPS provincial spokesperson Vincent Mdunge told SAnews on Thursday.

The police investigation follows a startling discovery on Wednesday by the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Education, Senzo Mchunu, of workbooks/textbooks — which were meant for uThungulu District pupils — burnt, shredded or gathering dust in the eMpangeni warehouse of a national distributor of school material contracted to the national Basic Education Department.

In a hastily convened media briefing held on Wednesday afternoon, Mchunu said he received a tipoff that some workbooks were dumped somewhere in an Empangeni warehouse.

“I quickly went to investigate the matter myself. I was shocked to discover that several boxes of current numeracy and literacy workbooks, for primary and high school classes in Empangeni area, had not been distributed but were gathering dust,” he said.

The MEC said on further investigation, he discovered that some workbooks behind the warehouse had been completely burnt, then inside the warehouse, “we found workbooks soaked in water, others shredded or half burnt”.

He said he later learned with shock that the workbooks found soaked in water were destined for recycling. “Apparently, paper soaked in water fetches a tidy sum when recycled (as it is heavier when weighed),” he told the media.

Mchunu said the discovery constituted “corruption of the worst order”.

“These guys are a greedy crop. They collect books in Johannesburg with the aim of distributing to all schools as per their contract, but they only deliver a few, recycle some, burn others but claim the full amount although they are fully aware that they have not fulfilled the letter and spirit of their contract,” he said.

Mchunu assured the media that heads will roll.

“If I had my way, the contract of [the service provider] will be suspended forthwith, and the company blacklisted so that it never does business with government ever again. But my hands are tied. The contract is with the national Basic Education Department. I’ve alerted Minister Angie Motshekga. She was as shocked as I am,” he said.

Mchunu revealed that this was not the first case brought before him of workbooks being dumped.

“We had a case of workbooks found dumped somewhere in Tongaat earlier this year. We also had a nasty surprise in the first quarter of this year when [a service provider] delivered workbooks to the uThungulu District Office instead of schools. We had to incur unnecessary costs to deliver these to the affected schools.”

Asked what the department was going to do next, he said a widespread investigation would be launched to ascertain if there were cases where workbooks/textbooks had not been delivered.

He said in May, the department had done a survey regarding the workbooks/textbooks delivery; the response at the time was satisfactory. However, Mchunu said workbooks/textbooks were delivered in a staggered fashion per quarter throughout the year.

Basic Education Ministry spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi confirmed that Minister Motshekga will today send a team to the province to conduct its own investigation.

“We are worried about the turn of events. If our investigators can confirm misconduct, the contract of the service provider will be immediately terminated,” Lesufi said. – SAnews.gov.za