Tebogo Sephakgamela

Textbooks Activist

Eighteen years ago Tebogo Sephakgamela could not have predicted that in 2014 his name would be on the founding affidavit in a court case that is part of resolving arguably the biggest education crises in the country since the dawn of democracy: the continuing shortage of textbooks in Limpopo.

Sephakgamela finished matric in a school near his home village, Mothobekhi, in Limpopo in 1996 and began the hunt for a job. His plan was to save enough money so he could study towards a law degree, but this took longer than expected. He eventually enrolled at Unisa in 2006, but only had enough money to register for three modules.

Financial challenges got in the way of his studying, which he put on hold, but it also freed him up to tackle the injustice he grew up in and that he still sees all around him in his home province.

The 35-year-old first became a member of the community-based nongovernmental organisation Basic Education for All (Befa) at the beginning of this year. He needed help in getting the government to build a school near his village so that pupils did not have to cross a river and walk an hour and a half to the nearest school, as he had done throughout his school career.

It was an injustice, he said, that he had to stop. He grew up admiring Pan Africanist Congress founder Robert Sobukwe, whom he quotes as having said: “I totally hate injustice around myself”.

“I hate it too. Whenever I see something not going well around me I feel I have to do something to change it,” he said. Sephakgamela and Befa soon discovered that despite much court action around textbook shortages in 2012, thousands of pupils in the Mopani and neighbouring districts were still without the books they needed in April. With the help of nongovernmental organisation Section27, Befa filed court papers hoping to force government to deliver textbooks and a month later the judge ruled mostly in their favour.

Since then, many of the outstanding books have been delivered but many have not. Under-resourced and unpaid, Sephakgamela and other Befa members continue their struggle for quality education in the province, organising rights-awareness workshops for pupils and parents and building networks for schools so they can help each other find solutions for the education problems they share. — Victoria John