Zille in U-turn on school closures

ct zille (30807514) INLSA COURT CLASH: Premier Helen Zille has stepped in.

Leila Samodien

Justice Writer

PREMIER Helen Zille has stepped into the court clash over school closures at the eleventh hour, agreeing to keep four city schools open – for now.

This emerged in the Western Cape High Court late yesterday, prompting a scolding from Judge Siraj Desai over his court being used for “political gamesmanship”.

Advocate Eduard Fagan, SC, acting for the respondents in the matter, including Education MEC Donald Grant, read out a note about 4.30pm, saying that the premier had agreed to keep four of 18 schools open pending a review of Grant’s decision to shut them down.

The four schools are Lavisrylaan Primary in Bishop Lavis, Protea Primary in Bonteheuwel, and Beauvallon Secondary and Valpark Primary, both in Valhalla Park.

Judge Desai questioned why Zille had come out with this so late in the day after two days of the matter being heard, saying it was “hardly a satisfactory state of affairs”.

He branded it as “essentially, a political concession”.

“I resent that my courtroom is being used for political gamesmanship... My courtroom is not a playground for politicians,” a stern Judge Desai said.

There was clear tension on the Bench – made up of judges Desai, Dennis Davis and Elizabeth Baartman – with judges Davis and Desai exchanging words in hushed tones shortly before they adjourned for several minutes.

When proceedings resumed, Judge Desai said Fagan had explained to them the sequence of events in which the communication had been received and that he’d accepted this explanation.

Fagan also wanted it to be clear that the note about Zille’s decision was not a “concession” but simply them saying that “we are prepared to do this”.

This was not the only time yesterday’s proceedings became heated.

At one point, an impromptu protest erupted during an adjournment, with court-goers – among them parents and teachers – singing and chanting “not without a fight” from the public gallery. A little later,

Judge Desai said there was a “crisis in education” and that it was being resolved by closing schools. Grant decided to close 20 schools in October, most in rural areas. They’re to be closed on December 31.

A total of 18 of the schools, however, have approached the high court for an interim interdict to prevent this from happening. They’re also seeking a review of Grant’s decision, which is expected to be argued at a later stage.

Fagan argued that there had been “sufficient” consultation, in terms of the law, with the communities in which the 18 schools were based, before the MEC made his final decision. He argued further that if an interim interdict was granted, it had to be done on a “school by school” basis. One school, for example, wouldn’t have any teachers next year because one had left this year and the other had resigned.

The full Bench is expected to make an order as to the interim interdict tomorrow. However, Judge Desai said they needed time to consider the arguments and that they would hand down the reasons for their decision later.

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