Durban - Cash-strapped KwaZulu-Natal schools are letting out part of their grounds to businesses for much-needed income, but it can be a costly enterprise, as one institution has learnt.
Chatsworth Secondary had allowed a car wash to operate from its premises but kicked out the owner when it realised its water supply might be cut off because of an alleged unpaid bill of more than R100 000.
The owner, Bayview resident Preneshin Chetty, took the school and its governing body to the Durban High Court
- and won
. Judge Gregory Kruger ruled in Chetty’s favour on Tuesday and ordered the respondents to pay his legal costs.
Kruger made the ruling because counsel for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, also cited as a respondent, failed to file the required heads of argument before the matter could be heard.
Chetty, who said he was locked out twice in February, asked the court to be allowed back onto the premises to continue his car wash business, which operates seven days a week and employs 10 people.
In court papers, the department’s uMlazi district director, Bhekizenzo Ntuli, said the first lockout on February 10 was by consent for Chetty to settle his debt with the school
Ntuli said he then took the decision to lock Chetty out on February 20 to stop the school’s water account from escalating further, and to safeguard the best interests of the children.
According to the lease agreement, Chetty had to install separate water and electricity meters at his own cost and be responsible for all municipal levies, records and adherence to by-laws.
But Ntuli said it was not a normal landlord-tenant lease agreement in that Chetty had no time restrictions and, as a result, he could operate at weekends and in school holidays.
Ntuli said the business directly affected the pupils as they also relied on water, which could be cut off as Chetty had allegedly not been paying for the service since he started operating his car wash.
As a result, the school now owed the eThekwini Municipality almost R140 000, he said, adding this would be detrimental to the school as the “innocent children” could not be without access to the toilet facilities and drinking water, “even for a single day”.
“Without water, which is the essential need of any human being, the school will have to close down, thus jeopardising the children’s future.”
According to Ntuli, Chetty’s alleged debt showed he had no intention to generate any income for the school
Chetty said in his founding affidavit that he had entered into the lease agreement with the school in October 2011 “to uplift the community by creating employment and to generate a much-needed income stream for the school”. But he said he had had numerous problems with the governing body recently, mainly about rental payments and a debate about what should be paid in terms of water and electricity usage.
He said this then led to the first lockout without a valid court order, but he was allowed to return. He met with the school and Education Department representatives to try resolve the issue, but said he was kicked out a second time, which led to his high court application.
“The (school) is being vindictive in its action and has done this purely in an attempt to force me to leave the premises,” he said, adding he felt the actions were unlawful and illegal.
Speaking to the Daily News outside court on Tuesday, Chetty, who is also an insurance broker, said that while he was happy about the outcome, he felt there was still more work he could do for the school. He said that in addition to a monthly rental of R2 200, which increased by 10 percent a year, he would donate R20 000 to the school annually for its maintenance and renovation. He denied owing the school money.
Chatsworth Secondary declined to comment, referring the Daily News to the department, which said it accepted and respected the ruling.
KZN Department of Education spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said schools, in trying to earn more money, should instead look at options more in line with their core business - education.
“Schools must always be careful when entering into an agreement without the department’s involvement.
“This isn’t a business practice meant for schools. It’s always noisy and there are people who are not part of the school who enter its premises. It was wrong of the school to allow a car wash in the first place.”
Mahlambi said it was not an “educationally sound decision” as the school should have instead allowed another business, for example a tuckshop.