Pretoria - ‘DON’T close our school. It is the best school in Mpumalanga.” This was the chant by scores of parents and pupils outside the Palace of Justice on Tuesday, as their legal counsel fought to keep the independent school, Cefups Academy, open.
This school is situated between Mbombela and White River and made headlines following the death of one of its pupils, 19-year-old Pabalo Seane. She died in August this year at the Nelspruit Medi Clinic and her family claimed she had been sjambokked at school.
Since the school opened its doors more than two decades ago, some parents have apparently complained about their children being severely beaten, but no steps were taken by the Department of Education to establish whether this was true.
The death of Seane prompted the education authorities to launch an investigation into the allegations and a special task team has now submitted a 50-page report regarding its findings.
The Mpumalanga Education Department subsequently revoked the school’s registration.
The pupils completed their exams last week and the school has closed for the holidays. But its registration has been revoked as from January 1 next year. Parents had already (before the registration was revoked), enrolled their children for next year and they are now in dire straits.
The school headed to the high court to obtain an urgent order allowing it to operate, pending an application brought at a later stage to challenge the department’s closure of the school.
Judge Andre Louw was on Tuesday told that the review application would take some time to get on the roll. The registered pupils otherwise have nowhere to go.
Counsel for the school said if the judge did not grant an urgent order in their favour, it would mean the end of the school.
An order granted after next year’s school year started, even if it was in favour of the school, would be academic as the school year would have already started.
While there were complaints of corporal punishment at the school and the task team, after interviewing some of the affected parties, found this to be true, the school denied this.
The school’s counsel, DB du Preez SC, told Judge Louw that there were general accusations of corporal punishment, but no dates or details were provided.
He said the department simply revoked the licence to operate without giving the school the chance to explain itself or to dispute the allegations. Du Preez said the department said it would not tolerate the physical punishment of the pupils, but did not give the school the chance to address the concerns.
Judge Louw responded: “Is it not obvious that if their concern is corporal punishment, then stop it.”
Du Preez repeated that there was no corporal punishment at the school. He said the department did not follow procedure in revoking its registration and the court should rule in the school’s favour.
He also stressed that the police investigation into the death of Seane had not been concluded and the department had thus acted too hastily.
The court was also told that the task team did not appreciate that the teachers denied the allegations of corporal punishment. They also failed to consider that Seane was ill and had drunk an antiseptic (Savlon) before her death.
Judgment was reserved.