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Equal Education joins as an amicus curiae as 80 year old farm school faces eviction

Grootkraal UCC Primary School is a rural farm school that has been operating close to the Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn, Western Cape for over 80 years. It occupies a small piece of land situated on a larger private farm and currently accommodates 160 learners.

However, Grootkraal Primary now faces eviction after the farm was sold to the Kobot Besigheld Trust in 2009.  The Trust’s plan is to convert the farm into a game reserve for visitors to the Cango Caves. The threat of eviction impacts on the constitutional right to basic education of the learners at the school and it also impacts on the central role that the school plays within the community. 

In early 2011 the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) decided to move the learners to temporary classrooms situated at another school a further 17km away after it failed to renew a lease agreement with the new owners of the farm.  In June 2011 the school successfully sought an urgent interdict in the Western Cape High Court preventing the school’s closure or relocation.  The High Court order prohibited the MEC from relocating the school during the 2011 school year and ordered the MEC to engage with the Trust in an attempt to conclude a new lease agreement. However, the Kobot Trust has proposed a new increased rental amount which the WCED says it is unable to afford and thus a new lease agreement has not been able to be reached. The Kobot Trust has now applied to court to have the school evicted.

Many rural schools continue to endure the legacy of poor facilities and poor infrastructure associated with insecure tenure. This situation was intended to be remedied by the South African Schools Act, 1996.  Section 14 of the Schools Act obliged MEC’s for Education to conclude agreements with land owners to secure the tenure of public schools on private land within six months from the date the Act took effect.  But in the majority of cases this has not happened. However, section 14 must be read together with section 58 of the Schools Act.

Section 58 of the Schools Act gives MECs for Education the power to expropriate land if “it is in the public interest to do so…for any purpose relating to school education in the province.” The power to expropriate land is given to the MEC for instances where landowners refused to enter into lease agreements in terms of section 14.  Without the powers to expropriate property, Education Departments would be helpless in protecting the tenure of schools situated on private property, many of whom have historically faced continual insecurity of tenure.

But, in this case the MEC has chosen not to make use of the powers given to him under section 58. Furthermore, the WCED has already begun making arrangements for the school to be relocated a 17km from its current location.

This week, members of the Grootkraal community, wrote letters to MEC Donald Grant pleading that he considers the historical significance of the school to the many families in the community and the drastic impact that the eviction would have. 

.  Equal Education will ask that the Court to:

·         refuse the eviction order and compels the MEC to engage with the School Community on all available options and that

·         The MEC be obliged to report to the Court on all possible options considered including the possibility of expropriating the land in the public interest and for the benefit of current and future generations of learners at the Grootkraal Primary School.

Arguments will be heard in the Cape High Court on 9 March 2011.

 

For more information contact:

Dmitri Holtzman             082 733 5000       / dmitri@equaleducation.org.za

Yoliswa Dwane at             021 387 0022      

For more information from the Grootkraal School:

Llewelyn Metembo (SGB member and teacher at Grootkraal)             078 998 5881       / ljmetembo@mweb.co.za  

Equal Education joins as an amicus curiae as 80 year old farm school faces eviction