Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has distanced herself and her department from half-naked pictures shared on Twitter alongside the department's "R ead to Lead" initiative.
Over the weekend, department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga shared pictures of scantily clad women reading books, using the #ReadtoLead hashtag on the social media site.
The sharing of the photographs sparked an outcry from Twitter users who said they found them distasteful.
"Reading for leisure is also therapeutic. It relaxes the mind, body and soul," Mhlanga tweeted.
In a statement, Motshekga said she had not been informed that the campaign would involve using images of semi-naked women, adding that she would never have given permission, because women were not objects.
"The objectification of women is an affront in our battle against the pervasive nature of patriarchy and the scourge of gender-based violence.
'I pushed the boundary slightly'
"I distance both the ministry I lead and the Department of Basic Education from this naked display of chauvinism. The objectification of women has no place anywhere in our society, let alone in our quest to promote reading," she said.
Motshekga said she had instructed the department's accounting officer to take action to ensure that no officials make no decisions on their own in the name of the department.
Mhlanga has since apologised on his Twitter account, saying he had no intention of offending anyone, News24 reported on Tuesday.
"Contemporary audiences that consume media tend to be open about sex and sexuality. I, therefore, have a full understanding of representation and metaphoric content.
"And in this context, I pushed the boundary slightly in order to play around with meaning, and push a narrative about reading as an activity that can be done for fun and leisure."
'This is not enough'
"To those I disappointed and indeed those of you who are offended by the use of the images, I apologise."
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the chairperson of Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, noted that Mhlanga had first tried to justify his tweets before apologising.
"This is not enough. We cannot be objectifying women, and especially not in Women's Month. What are we teaching our boy children in school by communicating like this? What message are we sending out to our girl learners that their bodies are to be used in this fashion," she said.
She urged the department to take action.
"We urge the department to take drastic action against Mr Mhlanga for his thoughtless, sexist, chauvinist approach to a worthy and noble campaign. The committee will, as part of its oversight responsibilities, take up the matter with the department when it meets again during its next scheduled meeting," Mbinqo-Gigaba said.