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CAPE TOWN - Nobel literature prize winner Nadine Gordimer poured scorn on South Africa's education system on Tuesday as "a wreck" over the failure to deliver textbooks to thousands of public schools.
The scandal has caused a national furore after leaving more than 5,000 rural schools without textbooks for more than six months of the academic year in a damning measure of South Africa's schooling 18 years into democracy.
"Our education system is a wreck. It's a shamble. I can't believe that three-quarters of the year have gone by and so many of our schools, especially in the rural areas, have been without textbooks," said Gordimer, 88, on SAFM public radio news.
"It is the (education) minister's responsibility to see that the books are ordered in time and delivered. How can you teach people to read if there are no books to read from?"
President Jacob Zuma is facing increasing calls to fire Education Minister Angie Motshekga. On Monday, he said he was waiting for a final report from a team he appointed to investigate the debacle.
The education department was found to have violated students' rights to education after being taken to court and was ordered to remedy the situation.
But a probe revealed that 22 percent of schools in the northern Limpopo region were still without learning materials earlier this month despite a scramble by authorities to get the missing books to schools.
The criticism by Gordimer, who had several works banned by the apartheid regime, comes after peace laureate Desmond Tutu said democratic icon Nelson Mandela would be reduced to tears if he knew the poor state of public schools.
Education is South Africa's single biggest budget item, but schools are hobbled by poor management and low standards.