ANC proposes a state publisher

2012-05-12 16:56

Government wants to take charge of printing textbooks
South Africa will have its own state publishing company by the next government administration term if the ruling ANC has its way.

In its policy discussion document, the ANC reveals that it ­particularly wants government to take charge of producing and printing school textbooks.

The party is now discussing how to implement its plan.

It says its main reasons for wanting government publishers are:
»?The annual delay, and sometimes failure, in delivering textbooks to schools;

»?The high cost of buying from private publishers; and

»?The lack of transformation in the country’s publishing industry.

In its policy discussion document on education, the ANC said South Africa was constantly experiencing “challenges in the production, distribution and availability of textbooks, and other instruments or vehicles of knowledge production”.

ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Zweli Mkhize, who chairs the party’s ­education and health subcommittee, said the state takeover of the production and distribution of textbooks was “merely a proposal for now”.

Mkhize said the public had been asked to submit proposals that would be factored into discussions at the party’s policy conference.

The ANC’s national working committee report to the February NEC meeting recommended that “government publishers should take over the production of textbooks for schools”.

But publishers have hit back.

They say the instability of the school curriculum, late orders and the use of middlemen by the ­department of education make it difficult to deliver books on time, or in some cases at all.

“Anyone who understands the industry won’t say nationalisation is the way to go,” said Brian Wafawarowa, executive director of the Publishers’ Association of SA.

He said the time publishers were given to procure textbooks – sometimes as little as five months – was “unbearable”.

Wafawarowa said middlemen were often used by the department and absorbed a lot of money that government thought went directly to the publishing houses.

But the idea is enthusiastically supported by the department of basic education, said its national spokesperson, Panyaza Lesufi.

“We believe it will assist with ­reducing the prices and with transformation in the industry,” he said.

“At the moment the issue of African languages and other things we want covered cannot be achieved. There’s no investment in the development of that material because they (the publishers) have got this view that everything that is not Western doesn’t sell.”

Lesufi said there were no ­alternative publishers and the ­industry was “a monopoly of a ­special type”.

“When you touch one publisher you’ve touched all of them. This is the industry that dictates prices, terms and everything else with ­regards to publishing.”

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said that although the main aim was to resolve the shortage of textbooks, the state publishing company might take up other responsibilities.

“Apart from schools, within the health institutions, there are many things that we do where we’re utilising private publishers.

“There might also be other ­government departments that are interested in using the government publishing company,” Mthembu said.

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