KZN education taking a R1bn legal lashing over corporal punishment, violence
The department is being sued due to incidents of violence between pupils, between pupils and teachers and among teachers.
There are also cases related to defamatory remarks made by some teachers about their colleagues.
These claims amount to R917million.
The figure balloons to R1.3bn, with a claim that has been filed by a company, Indiza Infrastructure Solutions.
The department revealed that the R1.3bn was set aside as contingent liabilities in anticipation of the settling of the claims.
Indiza was a former service provider of the department and had a contract to supply stationery to schools.
The relationship between the department and Indiza soured a few years ago.
It is understood that Indiza is suing the department for R500m for reputational damage.
The Mercury could not reach Indiza yesterday as its landline number seemed to be disconnected.
The department told members of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) this week that each claim was assessed on its merits and then a decision was taken either to defend the claim or settle it before it went to trial.
Ntokozo Maphumulo, from the department’s legal services unit, said some claims were due to “teachers that are still practising corporal punishment”.
She said in one case there was a claim of R8m against the department following a rape incident and the department negotiated and settled the claim for about R500000.
The R1.3bn figure shocked Scopa members who said while they understood that mistakes may happen, it was clear that some department officials did not take their jobs seriously and could have prevented some of the claims.
Chairperson of the education portfolio committee, Jomo Sibiya, said: “The R1.3bn covered claims that have been accumulating since 2012.
“About R500m is a lawsuit brought by the Indiza.
“They are now suing again for reputational damage; they claim that they lost business when the scandal with the department broke and their image was negatively affected.”
Sibiya said the department would be challenging the Indiza matter in court.
He added that the department facing such large claims was a sign that it was not implementing proper governance systems.
Scopa member Rishigen Viranna said: “This is money that the department has set aside because they are being sued.
“They cannot use the money for books or anything as it waits to settle lawsuits.”
Scopa chairperson Maggie Govender said R1.3bn was a massive amount to be set aside for settling legal claims and Scopa would have preferred that the money be used for service delivery.
She said the legal claims pointed to problems in how the department was being managed.
SA Democratic Teachers Union provincial secretary Nomarashiya Caluza said the union believed the number of claims would rise given the problems with safety in schools.
She said there were incidents where teachers were attacked and if this happened on the department’s premises, it was reasonable that they might seek to claim damages from the department.
Vee Gani, of the KZN Parents Association, said the situation was worrying.
“Individuals should be held accountable for the wrongdoing not the department.
“Imagine if you put that amount into improving the quality of education, that would mean the employment of more educators,” he said.