The South African government's failure to provide textbooks to all state school pupils violates their constitutional right to an education, the high court ruled last week.
The case was brought by human rights activists on behalf of several schools in the Limpopo province.
The court in Pretoria gave the government until 15 June to supply the schools with the textbooks. The government has admitted that 80 per cent of state schools are failing. In a recent report, it said 1,700 schools were without water and another 15,000 had no library facilities.
The country's education system is also said to be struggling to overcome corruption, maladministration and low teacher morale.
Judge Jody Kollapen ruled that the matter of supplying textbooks to the affected Limpopo schools was urgent and ordered the department of basic education to come up with a "catch-up" plan to resolve the issue.
Members of Section27, the human rights group which brought the case, said that some 1.7 million learners at more than 5,000 schools in Limpopo "will benefit" from the ruling. However, it criticised the country's education department for "not doing its core business".
"We want to work with them, but we also want them to stop their arrogance," Section27 director Mark Heywood was quoted as saying.
South African education minister Angie Motshekga has pledged that 85 per cent of all pupils in the country's state schools will have all the necessary textbooks by 2014.