Comment by John Robbie

Let’s all join the textbook access movement

There’s a story in the Mail and Guardian today that an actuarial student – and these guys are geniuses – at WITS, got a bursary of R4000 from the Gauteng Province to buy textbooks, which is absolutely brilliant, it’s a lovely story to have. But because of the cost of textbooks, he couldn’t buy them all! There were only 6 textbooks and he was given R4000 – the cost of books is ridiculous and the fact that government won’t scrap VAT on books makes it even worse.

Why do they not zero-rate books to encourage reading or even academic textbooks to help the guy I’ve mentioned above and everyone else in a similar situation?

The reason they say is consumers would only receive a relatively small portion of the benefit and it would go to the suppliers – well, I think that’s a weak argument.

I mean, here we have a government that seems to want to control just about everything business does – just look at the red tape that’s involved in setting up a business in South Africa. Now we’re told that they cannot manage to ensure the benefit of zero tax is passed on to the consumer. Well surely random checks and big fines would manage that one? I mean, I don’t buy it.

Good education is vital for the future of the country and it is being hampered by a bureaucratic decision that doesn’t make sense. Of course in the long term, to focus on e-books and tablets, etcetera, but that is happening slowly, although it is happening in certain places, it isn’t happening fast again.

We see a government that can spend billions and billions at the drop of a hat, when it deems it urgent. Look at the Arms Deal, the coming nuclear deal and the way those were pushed through. But when something as vital as education comes along and the high costs of textbooks, it remains stubbornly immovable.

There’s an organisation called Textbook Revolution in the Western Cape and this is to bring down the cost by 40% of textbooks and I think that it’s something we should all join, including government - John Robbie

Listen to John's Comment in full here.

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