Human Rights Commission welcomes Supreme Court judgment on delivery of textbooks in Limpopo

The South African Human Rights Commission (Commission) welcomes the judgment handed down by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) on 2 December 2015 in the case of Minister of Basic Education and others vs Basic Education for All and others, and congratulates Section 27 in leading the process of initiating proceedings in this matter.

Dismissing the appeal by the Department of Basic Education and the Limpopo Provincial Department of Basic Education (DBE) the SCA held that “the law is clear…The DBE is obliged to provide a textbook to every learner to ensure compliance with s 29(1)(a) of the Constitution. We must guard against those who are most vulnerable. In this case we are dealing with the rural poor and with children. They are deserving of Constitutional protection.”

In 2012, the High Court had in its judgment declared that: (a) the appellants’ failure to have delivered prescribed textbooks before the commencement of the teaching was a violation of learners’ rights to basic education, equality and dignity, and (b) ordered the Department of Basic Education to provide every learner with prescribed textbooks before the commencement of the academic year.

The Commission participated in both the High Court and the SCA proceedings. The Commission’s participation was motivated by its constitutional and statutory mandate to promote the respect, protection and monitoring of human rights in South Africa. The Commission had earlier investigated and convened hearings on the procurement and delivery of textbooks nationally.

The judgment reaffirms that the state has an obligation to realise the right to basic education and as such, textbooks are indispensable and play an important role in the realisation of the right. Furthermore, that the rights to basic education and equality are individual rights to which every learner is entitled. Education is a vehicle for the fulfilment of the right to equality. The judgment further confirms that the right to basic education is not subject to progressive realisation but should receive immediate attention.

The Commission notes that the SCA’s overwhelmingly approved the submissions proffered by the Commission and Basic Education for All (BEFA), which put across similar arguments. Delivering its judgment, the SCA bemoaned the DBE’s planning and preparedness to implement a new curriculum. The SCA confirmed the order granted by the Judge Kollapen in the High Court in 2012 wherein the judge had noted that the failure to provide textbooks to some learners in Limpopo affected learners adversely. Judge Kollapen had further noted that the failure to deliver books was a violation of the learners’ rights to, amongst others, basic education, equality and dignity. The SCA also noted the DBE’s non-compliance with the orders High Court order.

The Commission welcomes the SCA’s forward looking judgment in respect of section 29(1)(a) of the Constitution. The Commission views this judgment as a victory for the learners in public schools, in particular those in poor and rural communities. The judgment is an affirmation that literacy, and education in general, is a basic human right and a means to the realisation of other rights.

The Commission urges the DBE to comply with the order of the SCA by ensuring that each and every learner is provided with the necessary materials in order for them to realise their right to a basic education.


Isaac Mangena


Cell: 0718848273