Judge slams Lesufi's dept in Hoërskool Overvaal case

Principals of schools who said they had room for pupils threatened if they did not change affidavits

Court suggests that education department investigate director after #Overvaal ruling

Pretoria - The North Gauteng High Court has suggested that the provincial education department investigate their Sedibeng East District Director as there were "clear signs" of defeating the ends of justice.

The department attempted to have 55 pupils, to be taught in English, placed in an Afrikaans medium of instruction high school.

Judge Bill Prinsloo on Monday set aside the department’s decision to admit 55 learners to Hoërskool Overvaal in Vereeniging, saying that school has no capacity to receive the pupils, let alone to do so on such short notice and to effectively convert to a dual medium school.

He added that on the balance of the evidence, neighbouring English high schools had the capacity to take the pupils.

Prinsloo further stated that the decision was unlawful and that Sedibeng East District Director Criselda Makhubela and "perhaps" Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi had acted in conflict with the constitutional principal of legality in placing the additional students in the high school.

He added that Makhubela was biased, uncompromising and, in his view, broke the law in an attempt to have the pupils placed in Hoërskool Overvaal.

"In my view there are clear signs by the second respondent to defeat the ends of justice and I respectfully suggest that some senior peers of hers may consider investigating her conduct."

'Bullied and threatened'

Prinsloo’s comments emanated from two sets of affidavits received from two neighbouring high schools in the same feeder zone of Hoërskool Overvaal. Both schools are English medium of instruction schools.

The schools, General Smuts and Phoenix high school, originally swore under oath that they had place for additional learners. This information was included in a replying affidavit from Overvaal. Two days later, they recanted their statements.

Another affidavit from the school containing a WhatsApp exchange between the chairperson of the School Governing Body (SGB) of Hoërskool Overvaal and the principal of General Smuts High School, which was accepted as evidence by Prinsloo.

The exchange stated that principal was effectively bullied by the department to change his statement that his school had capacity for additional learners.

"I am out, they want to fire me because I made a false statement that the school isn’t full. They are throwing the book at me, so I gave a new statement,” the principal said, adding that he was worried about his pension.

The principal of Phoenix High School was also allegedly threatened with dismissal, accused of being a racist and told ‘how dare he help an Afrikaans school’. This was relayed to the chairperson of the SGB via a phone call.

Makhubela said in her affidavit that after she realised the information contained in the affidavits wasn't true she contacted both principals.

"I then contacted both principals and then showed them the printout of the admission stats of both high schools (being the sixth and seventh respondents) and they realised that they mistakenly said their schools still had space. I then requested them to make affidavits to reflect the correct status of their schools," Makhubela said.

Threats to burn down school

Following the judgment, parents of the affected pupils vowed to burn down the school.

Lesufi calmed them and asked them not to take the law into their own hands. He told them he would be appealing the judgment and would go as far as the Constitutional Court if he had too.

"They might have their day to rejoice today, but it won’t last long. We might be down today, but we are definitely not out," said Lesufi.

"Our hearts might be sore, we may be in pain, we might not agree but one thing for sure, there is no racist that can hide behind a broomstick. There is no racist that will use language to deny our children access to education.

"So we, on behalf of the department are definitely without any shadow of hesitation going to appeal this judgment."

The department argued that the school had place for the pupils and that the pupils should be admitted to the school as the demographics in the area had changed, resulting in a higher demand for English.

The department also said that language could not be used as a barrier to segregate.

The school argued that it was full and that admissions were based on its language policy as per the National Schools Act.