South Africa’s textbook scandal

Schools in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province have been operating without textbooks all year.

We drive in through the school gates.

It’s the first day of the new term and children are running up and down, hugging friends they haven’t seen in weeks.

A teacher tries to maintain order – but it’s difficult. Only when the principal Mr Ngoako Rapaledi arrives do the children calm down.

It’s time for the morning assembly – they sing a few songs and listen to the welcome speech from their principal.

He tells them sternly, “I don’t want to hear anyone is playing in class. You are here to learn, so you make something of your lives. Your parents pay a lot of money to bring you here. You must pass your exams.”

The students head to class in silence. But once the principal goes back to his office, the noise starts.


There is one girl sitting in the corner, reading a book. I notice her because she seems to be completely engrossed in what she is reading. Her noisy classmates don’t seem to be disturbing her. The teacher hasn’t arrived yet, and I ask to see what she is reading. To my surprise it’s a book on English grammer.

Her name is Lohapttei Thasha. She is 12-years-old and wants to be a fashion designer one day. But she is frustrated. She sits her exams in October.

She puts the very old looking textbook down and says, “We are waiting for new textbooks to come. The teacher says she is waiting for the education department to deliver them. We can’t study properly without textbooks.”

She then asks me if I am from the education department. I tell her “no” and she looks a little disappointed. For a brief moment she thought I had brought the books she‘s been waiting for.

Textbook scandal

It’s being called the text book scandal.

Seven months into the school year and some state schools have not had textbooks delivered. Limpopo Province is one of the worst hit areas. Students are either using outdated reading material or they have to share the few books that are there.

Human rights activists accuse the education department of bad management and corruption.

They blame government officials for not monitoring the company contracted to deliver textbooks, and they have taken the department to court.

A high court judge ruled that the government must deliver the text books by June. Some books have started arriving, but many school teachers say they are waiting for theirs to be delivered. Some schools haven’t had proper textbooks since January.

Teachers’ improvise

It’s been difficult trying to get the principal to talk to me. He seems evasive – something changed from when I spoke to him on the phone to now. In fact most of the teachers don’t want to have anything to do with me. One woman tells me off the record that teachers are scared they will be fired if they say too much or the wrong thing to the media.

Eventually, the principal takes me around the school. He has received some books but very few. Not enough to go around. He is the President of the Limpopo Teacher’s Association.

“We will have to photocopy books and try and teach that way. We will try and do everything we can so our students pass,” he says frustrated, “the government says the books are coming – so we’ll be patient.

“Until that happens we try and teach as much as we can in class because we don’t have books for children to take home and study on their own.”

The waiting game

Government officials blame the company given the contract to deliver the books. Parents and teachers are blaming the government, and students like Lohapttei wait patiently for someone to get their act together.

Lohapttei wants to own her own fashion label one day – and create jobs in South Africa.

Her two older brothers aren’t working. In fact one in four South Africans is jobless.

This 12-year-old believes if she graduates from high school and goes to university she won’t end up like her siblings.

For her it seems simple – once the correct textbooks arrive and there are enough to go around – she will be fine.

The big question for many teachers and students is: when will the books arrive?