So it’s off with whose heads, exactly?

2014-03-30 14:00

On Tuesday, two civil rights organisations will ask the North Gauteng High Court?–?once again?–?to compel the government to do its job and provide textbooks to all pupils in Limpopo.

This follows a City Press exposé that revealed thousands of pupils there, in North West and the Northern Cape are still waiting for textbooks for the 2014 academic year.

As the story of Nkandla unfolds, it is tempting and extremely easy to shout, “Off with their heads!”?–?a reference, of course, to the politicians who should ultimately take public responsibility for what’s going wrong on their watch.

But what about the thousands of civil servants paid with our tax rands who are supposed to be the nuts and bolts of the system?

We often don’t know their names, but when they fail at their jobs, we see and bear the consequences: billing systems crashing, hospital records misfiled and missing, textbooks still absent from schools.

When bureaucrats fail, provinces like Limpopo collapse. There has been some criticism of administration boss Monde Tom and his team, but their stories of what they found are hair-raising: looting, flagrant disregard for basic financial and management rules, and a general sense that many of Limpopo’s nuts and bolts couldn’t care less about the people they have been appointed to serve.

Politicians, the public faces of our democratic government, must be held to account when they fail. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga needs to explain what will be done differently to make sure this does not become an annual court battle. But crucially, she needs to get her department’s civil servants working?–?and they too must be made to stand up and take responsibility when they fail South Africa’s pupils.

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