Höerskool Overvaal: Lesufi at the ConCourt

Sara Gon says the rebuffal by SA's highest court has not caused MEC to self-reflect

Overvaal: Panyasa Lesufi and the highest court in the land

The IRR’s previous article on the “racial” incident at Höerskool Overvaal (Hoërskool Overvaal: Lesufi’s Awful Record (Politicsweb, 24 January 2018) dealt with Gauteng education MEC Panyasa Lesufi’s overweening arrogance in the conflict affecting Overvaal.

The sequel, six months later, is telling. But first, the background.

Overvaal approached the High Court for an urgent interdict to stop the Gauteng Department of Education from forcibly placing into the school 55 pupils who wanted to be taught in English. The school was already full and it is an Afrikaans-medium school.

The GDE had accused Overvaal of using language as a pretence to exclude the 55 pupils. The South African Schools Act of 1996 sets out the grounds for admission to a public school. Section 18 (A) provides that the governing body must determine the language policy of the school, subject to the Constitution and the Schools Act itself.

Section 18(2) obliges the governing bodies to submit a copy of their language policy to the MEC for vetting and noting. If at any time the MEC believes that the language policy of a public school does not comply with the Act’s principles or the Constitution, the MEC, after consulting the governing body, may direct that the school’s language policy be reformulated (Section 18(3)).

Overvaal’s governing body had not been instructed to reformulate its policy.

Nor may the MEC tell a school that it must become a dual-medium school one month before the new year starts. This was Overvaal’s predicament, and so it launched an urgent application to stop the GDE from creating a sudden dual-medium school.

The North Gauteng High Court granted Overvaal’s application, and in its judgment laid waste to Lesufi and his colleagues’ racism, breach of law and attitudes in general. The Court found the GDE’s submissions regarding the language allegations illegal. More detail is to be found in the previous article. 

The judgment was handed down on Monday 15 January this year, and school started on two days later, on Wednesday 17 January.

Notwithstanding this crushing legal defeat, the GDE did nothing to deter supporters of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), African National Congress (ANC) and Black First, Land First (BLF) from protesting outside the school’s gate on the Wednesday. The EFF and BLF are groups known for their “politics of hate”.

They, along with some in the ANC, are anti-white racists. Among threats made by protesters, which included the parents of the 55 pupils, were to burn the school down.

And aggression, racist chanting and threats of violence is what the parents got when they dropped their children off for the start of the new school year.

In a performance that was contemptible even if not in contempt of court, Steve Mabona, Lesufi’s spokesman, said on that Wednesday after the court had ruled in the school’s favour, that “there is a need for English to be taught here”, added: “It is a short-lived celebration ….we will fight it to the last court.”

Well, fight it to the last court Lesufi and the GDE did.

They applied to the Constitutional Court to overturn the High Court’s decision. Just two weeks ago, the ConCourt dismissed the GDE’s application, with costs, on the basis that there were no prospects of success.

Lesufi’s response was that the ruling highlighted “administrative faults in his department”, and conceded that these problems needed to be addressed.

In fact, the problem is that the school and others had repeatedly warned that what the GDE wanted to do was unlawful.

Perhaps his attitude to the court underlines his arrogance: "We don't need the court to help us build a non-racial South Africa. Those who want to build a non-racial society must do so where they are." 

Lesufi clearly holds the ConCourt in contempt as it didn’t agree with him.

Many of the governing body associations complain that Lesufi never meets them. It seems he doesn’t need to do so – he’s always right.

Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823.