Equal Education (EE) welcomes the finding by court appointed curators, the Centre for Child Law (CCL), that “it is overwhelmingly in the [Grootkraal] children’s best interests that they continue to attend school at Grootkraal”.
Grootkraal Primary, a rural farm school situated on private property close to the Cango Caves, has been the subject of protracted litigation. The school has been in existence for over 80 years but appeared destined for closure in 2011 after the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) decided to move its learners to mobile classrooms at Voorbedag Primary, 17 km away. This came as a result of MEC Donald Grant’s failure to renew a lease agreement with the ‘landowners’, the Kobut Besigheid Trust.
The Trust purchased the land on auction with the full intent of demolishing the school to establish a tourist attraction. When the lease expired, the Trust threatened to evict the WCED and the MEC’s response to this was simply to try and do away with the school. Section 58 of the School’s Act gives MEC Grant the power to expropriate property where landowners such as the Trust attempt to strong-arm the department to the detriment of learners’ right to an education. This power was conferred to prevent a repeat of apartheid-style practices where private landowners would simply close schools on a whim, regardless of the consequences for the learners concerned. However, the MEC, without explanation, refuses to make use of this power to avoid a similar injustice.
The school first attracted media attention in 2011 when its governing body successfully blocked the WCED’s plan for its closure through a High Court order. The order also required the MEC to engage with the ‘landowners’ in an attempt to conclude a new lease agreement. The Trust responded by bringing a case to evict the school later that same year. The eviction case was heard by Judge Baartman in the High Court in March 2012. EE, as amicus, asked the court to compel the MEC to engage with the community on the possibility of expropriation. MEC Grant did not participate in the case and filed a notice of intention to abide by the court’s decision.
After the hearing Judge Baartman requested the CCL to represent the children attending Grootkraal and to provide the court with information concerning the impact that the eviction would have on them. Findings contained in the CCL’s report filed with the court last month include that “the [Grootkraal] community has invested in Grootkraal and there is a profound sense of history, culture and community in respect of the school. The [MEC’s] manner of dealing with the matter was deeply disrespectful of the children and the community’s investment in Grootkraal . . . the [MEC] does not have a plan over and above simply stating that Grootkraal will move to Voorbedag”.
The report goes on to state that the move to Voorbedag would constitute an undue burden on Grootkraal learners and their parents and would pose a real risk of increasing learner drop-out rates in a rural context where children already face significant obstacles to completing their education. This combined with the MEC’s wholly inadequate plans, means that it is overwhelmingly in the best interests of Grootkraal learners that their school is preserved. The CCL “strongly recommend[s]” that the “MEC considers all available legal remedies, including expropriation, before it considers closing Grootkraal”. The continuing threat to the security of tenure of Grootkraal Primary School, and consequently its teachers and learners, adversely impacts upon section 29(1) (a) of the Constitution because the absence of security of tenure inevitably interferes with the provision of basic education.
EE hopes that in light of these findings and recommendations MEC Grant will visit the rural community of Grootkraal and make a serious attempt to engage with the community on the possibility of expropriating the land for the benefit of their children’s education.
For more information contact:
Llewelyn Metembo (SGB member and principal of Grootkraal) 078 998 5881
Yoliswa Dwane (EE Chairperson) on 072 342 7747/ 021 387 0022/3