No politics in court, says judge

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Copy of school closures [1] INLSA Demonstrators gather outside the Western Cape High Court to protest against the closure of 18 schools Picture: Jason Boud

Cape Town - Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai has lambasted Premier Helen Zille and Education MEC Donald Grant for using his court for “political gamesmanship”.

This comes after Zille and Grant said they would keep four urban schools open if certain conditions were met.

Eduard Fagan, for Zille and the education department, said the province would keep four schools open pending the outcome of a final review being expedited in court.

Judge Desai asked why the decision had not been taken earlier, since the court had been sitting for two days.

Judges Desai, Dennis Davis and Elizabeth Baartman were hearing an application for an urgent interdict by 18 of the 20 schools up for closure by December 31.

“I resent that my courtroom is used for political gamesmanship. This could have been done earlier. This courtroom isn’t the playground for politicians and the cost implications come in after that,” Judge Desai said and people in the packed public gallery responded loudly.

Dozens of teachers and parents of the affected schools cheered when Judge Desai addressed Fagan.

An advisor handed Fagan a note indicating that Zille and Grant agreed to keep four schools - Beauvallon Secondary, Lavisrylaan, Valpark and Protea primary schools - open pending the finalisation of the review process.

This means the judges have to decide whether an interdict should be granted regarding 13 schools as advocate Norman Arendse SC, for the schools, conceded that they did not have proper instructions for one of the remaining schools.

Judge Desai took the department to task. Before Fagan could properly begin his argument, Judge Desai said: “You don’t close a school because it is limping. You assist it.”

Judge Desai also attacked the poor consultation procedure that took place when departmental officials conducted public hearings on the closures. The proceedings were mechanically recorded and then supplied to Grant.

Judge Desai asked Fagan whether the department’s approach summarised as “Sê ma wat julle wil en ons sal doen wat ons wil (say what you want and we will do what we want)” was appropriate.

Fagan said that submission was never made and that consultation was not a legislative requirement.

Fagan argued that two reasons for the closures were dwindling pupil numbers and the fact that pupils do not benefit from multi-grade teaching.

But Judge Desai interjected again: “Multi-grade schools are not ideal but some of our greatest thinkers of our time come from multi-grade schools.”

Judge Desai suggested the decision to close the schools was done in haste - in six months.

“Why the haste? Why not close schools in Wynberg or Rondebosch? Why in rural areas?”

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Cape Argus

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