EE welcomes Premier Helen Zille’s desire to find a lasting solution to the troubles faced by Grootkraal Primary. Grootkraal Primary is a small but vibrant rural farm school operating close to the Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn for over 80 years. It occupies a small piece of land on a larger private farm. The school risks being closed down ever since the land it occupies was sold to the Kobot Besigheid Trust in 2009.
The school serves as a source of immense pride for this impoverished community. It offers its learners an opportunity to be exposed to technology through its computer laboratory as well as a daily meal courtesy of the school’s own vegetable garden. The school also serves as a focal point for the community, offering a place of worship for Sunday churchgoers.
In 2011 the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) decided to move its learners to mobile classrooms situated 17km away. This was after the WCED failed to renew a lease agreement with the land owners to ensure that the school could remain on the land. The land owners are interested in demolishing the school to convert the land into a game reserve.
The community proved a force to be reckoned with after they rallied against the closure of their school. The School’s governing body obtained a High court order prohibiting the MEC from closing the school in the 2011 school year. The order also required the MEC to engage with the land owners in an attempt to conclude a new lease agreement.
The land owners responded by filing an application to evict the school. The eviction case was heard by Judge Baartman in the Western Cape High Court in March last year. Equal Education (EE), as amicus, asked the Court to deny the eviction and to compel the MEC to engage with the community on the possibility of expropriating the land.
MEC Donald Grant did not participate in the case and filed a notice of intention to abide by the Court’s decision. At the moment the Court is awaiting reports from the Centre for Child Law and Lawyers for Human Rights before issuing further directions.
Premier Helen Zille, MEC Grant and their legal representatives have now agreed to meet with land owners and the school on 22 August in order to try and find a sustainable and just solution to the matter. The land owners are hoping to conclude a new short term lease agreement with the MEC which would terminate at the end of this year. The school seeks security of tenure, ideally in the form of expropriation. EE and its lawyers, the Equal Education Law Centre, will also attend this meeting.
Historically the existence of farm schools, like Grootkraal, was at the mercy of private land owners. Owners were able to open and close schools on their property at their discretion. This was intended to be remedied by the South African Schools Act. Section 14 of the Act obliged MECs of Education to conclude lease agreements with owners to secure the tenure of these schools. But in many cases this has not happened.
>Section 58 of the Schools Act gives MEC Grant the power to expropriate private land, such as the Grootkraal farm, if it is in the interest of learner’s education. It is hoped that the MEC will ensure that the injustices of history will not be repeated by ensuring that Grootkraal obtains the security of tenure required to educate their learners without the constant fear of being forced to close their doors.
For more information contact:
Llewelyn Metembo (SGB member and principal of Grootkraal) 078 998 5881
Yoliswa Dwane (Equal Education Chairperson) 021 387 0022
Lisa Draga (EE Law Centre attorneys for EE as amicus in the matter) 072 650 0214