Minister interdicted over textbooks

2012-05-25 20:00

Johannesburg - Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was interdicted on Friday from finalising a national catalogue for accounting textbooks.

Judge Jan Hiemstra granted the urgent order in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

Motshekga's department has been prohibited from finalising the catalogue, pending the outcome of a review application by textbook publisher New Generation Publishing Enterprises cc.

New Generation would now seek a court order setting aside the department's decision to disqualify its Grade 11 accounting textbooks in English.

The books were disqualified because the publisher's name was accidentally contained in a copyright clause on the front page.

New Generation manager Razia Aziz said in court papers that the department's reasons were "high handed", unreasonable, and deprived pupils of the publisher's high quality and popular accounting textbooks.

The Afrikaans version, which did not contain the name of the publisher, was conditionally approved for inclusion in the catalogue.

The English version was not even considered.

Even the department accepted that anonymity was not absolute, as ISBN numbers unique to each publisher appeared on the books.

The department should either have deleted the three offending words on the cover page, or should have given the publisher the chance to do so before it was submitted to the department's screening committee, he said.

He also accused the department of giving unreasonable time frames for the submission of material. Many publishers had inadvertently breached some of the technical requirements in the frantic rush to submit material.

The court heard that the disqualification of the accounting textbooks had serious implications for the future viability of New Generation's business.

Counsel for the publisher Tayob Nazeer Aboobaker SC argued that New Generation was not a "lone voice", but that many other publishers had experienced the same "shocking state of affairs" where people in the department made decisions without understanding the larger implications.

The department seemed to be on a "massive nit-picking exercise" designed to frustrate and ultimately destroy the publishing industry in South Africa.

It had itself accepted that submissions were not really anonymous, he said.

The department opposed the application, saying publishers had been aware of, and never objected to the anonymity rule, and should have complied with it.

Judge Hiemstra said he accepted New Generation's contention that it had inadvertently contravened the anonymity rule.

The rationale behind the anonymity rule was not in issue. It was to prevent members of the screening committee from being influenced and to reduce the possibility of bias and corruption.

In this case, however, the department had a discretion to condone non-compliance with the anonymity requirement where the contravention was not deliberate and there was a public interest at stake.

New Generation's accounting textbooks had been approved in previous years and had been a standard textbook for many grades for many years.

If it was not included in the catalogue, learners and teachers would be deprived of this highly regarded textbook, of which the Afrikaans version received a 90% rating.

"I accept that it is an excellent textbook which, had it not been for the disqualification, would have been included in the catalogue," he said.

The judge said it would not take the department long to review the textbook or to include it in the catalogue, if the publisher's review application succeeded.

Read more on:    angie motshekga  |  education  |  textbook saga

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