Jubilation after the granting of an urgent interdict to halt school closures. Photo: Thomas Holder

Cape Town - Seventeen Western Cape schools facing closure have been given a lifeline.

On Friday morning two of three Western Cape High Court judges ordered that the schools remain open.

Judge Siraj Desai, together with Judge Elizabeth Baartman, granted an interim interdict prohibiting the closure of four urban and 13 rural schools throughout the Western Cape.

Judge Desai said reasons for the decision would be given later.

The decision was not unanimous as Judge Dennis Davis, who also sat on the full Bench hearing the application, did not agree with the order and was not present.

On Friday morning, Judge Desai granted the interdict application for 13 rural schools after the Education Department agreed to keep four urban schools open.

The order also prohibits the department from transferring or compelling any pupils and teachers from remaining at the schools apart from those who choose to leave.

In addition, Judge Desai interdicted the department from moving any school property. If it had been done, it should be returned.

Full subsidies and teacher salaries should also continue to be paid. Judge Desai’s order was made pending a review application.

Advocate Norman Arendse SC, representing 18 schools, conceded that the application for one of the schools – Tonko Bosman Primary – should not stand because he was not properly instructed to act for it.

Education MEC Donald Grant announced in October that 27 schools were to be closed, citing dwindling pupil numbers, multigrade teaching and poor numeracy and literacy results as some of the reasons.

But Grant soon after decided that seven schools would remain open. Eighteen of the remaining schools took the matter to court to seek interim relief pending a review application on whether the decision to close the schools was correct.

Shouts of jubilation echoed in the corridors of the high court immediately after Judge Desai made his order.

Community members brandished posters, sang struggle songs and chanted “not without a fight”.

Outside court the ANC Western Cape chairman Marius Fransman said the judgment was a victory for the poor. The judgment would set a precedent regarding the closure of other schools throughout the province.

Save Our Schools campaign head Magnus de Jongh said the body was very happy with the decision and that the community would celebrate the victory at Lavisrylaan at 2pm on Friday.

“The judgment means we have been vindicated and we said from the start the consultation process was flawed. The provincial education department doesn’t have regard to the needs of the poor,” De Jongh said.

Judge Desai said he would give full reasons for the decision later, because the judges needed time to prepare a comprehensive judgment.

Earlier this week the court heard arguments in support and against the interdict.

And in an about-turn, Premier Helen Zille stepped in and gave an undertaking that the four urban schools would remain open pending the review application. The four schools were Lavisrylaan Primary in Bishop Lavis, Protea Primary in Bonteheuwel, Beauvallon Secondary and Valpark Primary, in Valhalla Park.

But the Save Our Schools campaign rejected Zille’s undertaking, saying they would not agree to a piecemeal approach and wanted all 18 schools to remain open.

On Wednesday, Judge Desai lambasted politicians, saying he would not allow his courtroom to be used for “political gamesmanship”.

A note bearing the undertaking was handed to Grant’s advocate, Eduard Fagan SC, around 4.30pm on Wednesday, after two days of arduous argument.

“This courtroom isn’t a playground for politicians and the cost implications come in after that,” Judge Desai said to a loud eruption of people seated in the packed public gallery.

Dozens of teachers and parents cheered and drummed on their benches when Judge Desai addressed Fagan.

Judge Desai did not mince his words either during earlier court proceedings on Wednesday. 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.

The proceedings were mechanically recorded and then supplied to Grant.

Cape Argus