Johannesburg - The Gauteng Department of Education filed papers with the Constitutional Court on Monday to obtain permission for leave to appeal last months’ explosive judgment in which a judge a set aside the decision by the department to admit 55 English speaking learners to Hoerskool Overvaal.
The department said the decision involves important constitutional issues relating to the rights of learners and the way forward for next year.
One of the contentious issues was the refusal of the court to add the 55 learners as a party to the proceedings. It was said that Gauteng High Court, Pretoria Judge Bill Prinsloo was wrong in not adding these learners as they had a direct interest in the outcome of the proceedings.
The department also motivated its bid to the highest court in the country as stating that there were a number of constitutional issues at stake, including the powers and duties of the department and a public school in relation to the admission of learners to a public school.
The department, however, simultaneously also filed papers for leave to appeal Judge Prinsloo’s decision, either before the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein or a full bench (three judges) before the Pretoria division of the high court.
It was said that the department will abandon its high court and SCA bids if the Constitutional Court agreed to hear the matter.
It had set out a number of grounds for appeal in both applications and the department said it believed that it has good prospects of success on appeal.
In the application before the Constitutional Court, Edward Mosuwe of the department said it is in the interest of justice for this court to hear the application.
“The high court judgment has led to sustained public controversy. It is appropriate for this court to hand down a determinative judgment that will put an end to that controversy as quickly as possible.”
Mosuwe said even if the Constitutional Court could not dispose of all issues that may give rise to admissions disputes in the 2019 school year, it is important that the correct procedures for the ventilation of these disputes be determined, before it reached the courts.
He said it was particularly important for the court to rule on the fact that Judge Prinsloo refused to joint the 55 affected learners as a party to the Overvaal application.
The department’s stance from the start was that these learners were directly affected by the outcome of the court case and it said that they should have had a voice.
“They are entitled to a final decision that will ensure that they know where they stand in time to act on that knowledge at the start of the 2019 school year,” he said.
Mosuwe said the department needs to avoid a situation where the unfortunate incidents around the admissions process at Hoerskool Overvaal are repeated next year, either at this school or at other schools in the province.
Judge Prinsloo last month found that Hoerskool Overvaal does not have the capacity to admit the additional learners.
He set aside the decision by the department that the Afrikaans school had to admit the additional 55 English learners.
This followed an urgent application by the school’s governing body to overturn the decision by MEC Panyaza Lesufi.
This ruling has led to great public outcry and for some time afterwards there were demonstrations and racially polarized confrontation at the school. Protesters have been injured and learning at the school had been disrupted.
The department said in its papers that it needs to bring calm to the situation and it needed clarity as to the way forward.
In its application to the high court, the department set out numerous grounds on which it believed Judge Prinsloo had erred in his judgment. This include his finding that there was no capacity to accommodate the additional 55 learners at the school and that they could have been accommodated at two other schools in the area.
The school meanwhile still has to file its opposing papers.