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Durban - Just a day away from the start of the school year, the KwaZulu-Natal Education Department is in serious financial trouble with two creditors waiting to auction off its fleet of vehicles to satisfy claims.

The department is in danger of losing its fleet of 708 vehicles if it does not pay claims to Sants, a private higher education institution, which is owed more than R30 million in bursary fees, and a former pupil, Simphiwe Shange, now 26, who was awarded damages of nearly R4m last year.

In two separate court applications, attorneys for Sants and Shange have successfully attached the department’s vehicles which consist mostly of Toyota Hilux, Isuzu and Nissan Hardbody bakkies.

In such cases, where the same items have been attached by more than one creditor, the goods are usually auctioned and the money is shared between the creditors.

Shange’s attorney, Elana Hannington, said on Monday the department had until the end of the month to make full payment or the vehicles would be removed and auctioned.

Sants, a private higher education institution, said the department owed it funds for the tuition of more than 1 000 students.

It said the department had identified 1 154 students who were eligible for bursaries to study teaching through Sants.

The first instalment for the bursary was not paid by this month as required, but the institution allowed the students to complete their first year.

The institution, which offers four-year teaching programmes, said it took the department to court late last year and in November the Pietermaritzburg High Court ruled that the department was responsible for paying the bursaries.

Shange is owed R3.9m after a ruling by Durban High Court Judge Dhaya Pillay last May.

She ordered the department to pay Shange damages after he was partially blinded in the right eye after being hit by a belt wielded by the school’s deputy principal in 2003, when he was in Grade 9.

The Mercury has seen a copy of the sheriff’s return of service in Shange’s case which states that a department official told the sheriff last December that the payment had been approved by the chief financial officer, but was rejected by department head Nkosinathi Sishi.

Hannington said she had not heard anything “meaningful” from the state attorney’s office about a payment.

Interest on the claim amount was escalating and was about R40 000 a month. She added that the vehicles were worth more than the amount Shange was owed and there would probably be a sale and the funds would be shared between Shange and Sants.

Sants spokesman Kobie van Zyl said the department had not paid any of the students’ fees.

The organisation, which had been unaware of the other attachment of the vehicles, said department officials had advised students to study at other institutions or their bursaries would be withheld.

Van Zyl said the department was deliberately misleading students.

“According to the agreement between the students and the department, their bursaries for Sants have to be renewed every year, as long as they have abided by certain requirements, which they have,” Van Zyl said.

He said changing institutions could present challenges for students and he did not know if students would be able to carry credits over to institutions which did not offer the same programmes.

The department was scheduled to hold a meeting to discuss the issue on Monday.

Education Department spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said: “The department noted the court’s decision in respect to the Sants ruling. We are studying it and will respond in due course.”

The department declined to comment about Shange.

The Mercury