SOUTH AFRICA. Millions of South African children could be without crucial textbooks when schools open next year, following cutbacks by the country's nine provinces and delays in book ordering.
These and other problems are also causing chaos in the local publishing industry - which depends on textbooks for half its work - as well as among booksellers. Many are floundering financially.
Last financial year spending on textbooks in South Africa was slashed by 42 per cent to around R520 million (Pounds 65m), from R895 million (Pounds 112m) in 1995-96. This was despite the fact that only 49 per cent of schools are adequately provided with textbooks.
Publishers still have no idea how much most provinces will spend on books this financial year. But it is likely that cuts to provincial budget allocations will substantially reduce textbook budgets once again.
"We are seriously concerned about the supply of textbooks to schools in 1998," said Kate McCallum, managing director of Oxford University Press and newly-elected chair of the Publishers' Association of South Africa.
"There is a lot of confusion about what is available for spending in the provinces, and there are already textbook backlogs. Unless schools are properly supplied next year, the backlogs will build further," she said.
Six of South Africa's nine provinces have yet to announce dates for the submission of textbooks for approved readings lists for the new Curriculum 2005 material, to be introduced in grade one next year, as well as for other school years.
A minimum of five months is normally required for the entire book supply chain - publishers, paper manufacturers, printers and distributors - to get books to South Africa's 12 million schoolchildren.