PEN SA Calls on Govt to Ensure That All Schoolchildren Have Access to Textbooks

11 Nov 2015
PEN SA Calls on Govt to Ensure That All Schoolchildren Have Access to Textbooks

An education enables that most foundational of rights – freedom of expression. It is key to a vibrant and growing economy as it is key to a cultural life and to literature.” – PEN SA President Margie Orford

Writers add your name to this call by clicking here and filling in the form.

Books are to education what oxygen is to life. Without books there is no learning, no knowledge, no understanding, no empathy. A book is a wonder – it is the distillation of what we know and how we live together. It is outrageous to think that just because a child is poor they should be cut off from books – the lifeblood of our shared community.

A book – and this includes the textbooks which are for so many millions of South African children the only books they will possess – is companion, guide and freedom. A book – a textbook – gives a child the autonomy they need to study and read at their own pace. This is not a luxury. Books and the hands that hold them give the shape of our shared futures. To deprive children of books – to which they have a right – is tantamount to depriving those same children of food.

With this in mind PEN South Africa supports SECTION27 and Better Education for All (BEFA)’s #TextbooksMatter Campaign. SECTION27 is a public interest law centre that seeks to influence, develop and use the law to protect, promote and advance human rights. BEFA is a community based organisation made up of parents, school governing bodies, learners, educators and other community members in Limpopo.

On 24 November, the South African Department of Basic Education will be appealing the Limpopo textbook judgement which was brought by BEFA (represented by SECTION27) in 2014.

In April 2014, the High Court ruled in favour of that the textbooks shortages were a breach of learners’ rights and ordered the Department to complete delivery within two months. This was the fourth court order in three years to be made against the Department requiring them to deliver all outstanding textbooks to schools in Limpopo. The Court declared that each learner at a public school in Limpopo has the right to be provided with every textbook for the learner’s grade before teaching of the curriculum is due to start. It described the failure to do so as “a violation of the rights to a basic education, equality, dignity”.

The Department is appealing this judgement as it argues that this is tantamount to “an impossible standard of perfection” and that the court should rather ask whether the government has taken “all reasonable measures” to fulfill the right. PEN concurs with SECTION27 and BEFA’s position that the right to basic education is an “unqualified right” and one that should be realized immediately.

There is extensive evidence that books are key to educational success and literacy. Access to textbooks, as well as libraries and books in general, is key to a good education.

As writers we call on the Department of Basic Education to prioritise immediate access to textbooks and libraries for all schoolchildren in South Africa.

We need an education revolution. We need for apathy to fall and for textbooks to flood our schools. #TextbooksMatter #LetOurKidsLearn #LetOurKidsRead


Louis Greenberg
Michael Morris
Kobus Moolman
Rachel Zadok, Short Story Day Africa
Karen Jennings,
Christine Coates, Poet
Alexander Matthews
Vertrees Malherbe
Karin Brynard
Kirsten Miller
Marie Philip
Hsien Lou
Ashraf Kagee
Willemien de Villiers
Harry Owen
Raymond Louw, Vice-President of PEN South Africa
Maxine Case
Angela Quintal
Julia Norrish, Book Dash
Justin Fox
Colleen Higgs
Margie Orford, President of PEN South Africa
Rosemund Handler
Beverly Rycroft
Byron Loker
Olivia Forsyth
Danie Marais, Manager of PEN Afrikaans
Jerilyn Miripol
Achmat Dangor
Jacqui L’Ange
Bernard Odendaal
Gillian Slovo
Mike van Graan
Nicholas Kawinga, President of Zambian PEN
Helen Moffett
Dawn Garisch
Jenny Hobbs
Ishtiyaq Shukri
Adre Marshall
Maren Bodenstein
Melissa de Villiers
Mark Heywood, SECTION27
Jenny Crwys-Williams
Mphuthumi Ntabeni, Qhamisa Publishers
Karin Schimke
Arabella Koopman
Izak de Vries, PEN Afrikaans
Jade Jacobsohn, Nal’ibali
Tosin Tume, ASSITEJ
Dessale Abraham, PEN Eritrea
Bridget Pitt, Author
Tade Ipadeola, PEN International
Mohamed Sheriff, PEN Sierra Leone

Writers add your name to this call by clicking here and filling in the form.