The basic education department's failure to provide textbooks for several Limpopo schools was unlawful and violated the Constitution, the High Court in Pretoria ruled on Thursday.
Passing judgment on the application brought by rights organisation Section 27, Judge Jody Kollapen ruled the matter was urgent.
He ordered the department devise a catch-up plan to remedy the consequences of its delay in supplying teaching material. Kollapen also ordered the department to supply the affected Limpopo schools with textbooks from March 31 to June 15.
The judge's ruling was received with spirited singing and dancing outside the court by members of Section 27 and the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB).
"This was a watershed ruling. The court's ruling will not only have implications for Limpopo, but other provinces will learn from it as well," Section 27 director Mark Heywood said outside the court.
NASGB secretary general Matakanye Matakanye said: "Justice has been done to the poorest of the poor today. We will be monitoring the implementation of the catch-up plan. There is no going back."