Mayibongwe Maqhina and Zine George
THE Eastern Cape government has withdrawn a tender for the distribution of books to schools for next year, sparking fears that a Limpopo-style crisis where schools sit without books for months will plague the province next year.
The Education Department's acting superintendent-general, Mthunywa Ngonzo, confirmed the cancellation of the centralised model and said a new model for the 2013 school year would be announced by the MEC, Mandla Makupula, "within a day or two".
He said details of the new model would be outlined when the MEC made the announcement.
Education role-players greeted the news with astonishment and fear, saying the move would almost certainly result in late deliveries next year.
According to the model, the department would transfer funds to individual schools by the end of this month so school governing bodies (SGBs) could order directly from booksellers in order for stationery and textbooks to be delivered by the end of the year.
Dalibhunga Senior Secondary School principal Lumka Mhlalaba said that having no idea at this time of the year about what to expect for next year was "scary".
"We are starting to panic," she said.
The department introduced a new, ambitious centralised programme earlier this month, which was later challenged in court.
A circular on the new system was issued to schools on Tuesday outlining the process to be followed by schools which did not want to be part of the centralised procurement of stationery and textbooks.
But the circular was described as "unlawful" by lobby group Fedsas (Federation of Governing Bodies of South Africa) and sparked fears the Eastern Cape was likely to become another Limpopo with textbook shortages due to bungles.
Ngonzo's Circular 16 gave SGBs until Friday next week to make representation if they did not want to be part of the centralised tender.
"Failure to respond will be deemed to be consent to their inclusion on the centralisation."
Ngonzo promised to transfer budget allocations to affected schools 14 days after receiving proof of delivery of textbooks, and threatened to withdraw the delegated function to buy textbooks if there was no compliance.
But Richard Edkins, Fedsas deputy provincial manager, said clauses of the new circular were unlawful.
"Our lawyers are looking at it. Circular 16 has certain aspects that are unlawful," he said, refusing to elaborate further.
Legal Resources Centre (LRC)regional director Sarah Sephton said: "The new circular is slightly contradictory, very convoluted, badly written and gives strict time-frames to opt out of the centralised procurement. There is no mention of the bid."
Edkins said: "Papers were served with the department last week Friday. The department wrote to us saying the circular was to be revoked and the tender to be withdrawn."
The department, through the state attorney's office, wrote to the LRC notifying it of the revoking of the initial circular and withdrawing the tender.
Stakeholders expressed concern at the cancellation of the tender, with some saying the turn of events would have serious implications and adversely affect schools when they reopened in January.
SA Booksellers' Association chairman Simpiwe Molosi, whose association has 89 members across the province, said it was terrible that the department was still discussing stationery and textbook delivery models.
"Books should be at schools by the end of November, but at this time the Education Department is still discussing the best model to use.
"No publisher will just print books without any commitment from the department. It's the same reason the Limpopo Education Department failed to meet the [high court] deadline.
"The next thing, the department is going to blame the business sector once they fail to meet deadlines.
"We will always play the blame game because the Eastern Cape Education Department does not want to plan ahead," Molosi said.
The item would be on top of the SA Democratic Teachers' Union provincial executive meeting next weekend, the union's provincial secretary, Mncekeleli Ndongeni, said.