Gauteng MEC of Education Panyaza Lesufi (grey suit and glasses) at the North Gauteng High Court on Monday. The court ruled that the department has no right to enforce a Vereeniging school to change its language policy at the last minute. PHOTO: Brenda Masilela/ANA

Pretoria - The North Gauteng High Court has ruled that the 55 pupils who wanted to be admitted and taught English at a school which only accommodates Afrikaans speaking pupils can not attend the school due to capacity constraints. 

"I have come to a conclusion that the school has reached its objective on entry level learner capacity. The head of department can, in any event, declare it full," said Judge Bill Prinsloo. 

Hoerskool Overvaal and the Gauteng Department of Education were last week embroiled in a two-day court battle, with the school insisting that it cannot admit the pupils because of capacity issues and a lack of resources. 

The Afrikaans medium school in Vereeniging approached the court to review and set aside the department's earlier instruction to admit 55 pupils. 

In its defence, the school said the department cannot simply give instructions and enforce something which is against  policy.

In his ruling, Prinsloo said that if the department had made the effort, they would have had to know that there is an abundance of space at neighbouring schools. 

"There is compelling evidence that neighbouring English schools have capacity to accommodate many more than 55 learners." 

Prinsloo made the remarks despite the schools, General Smuts High School and Phoenix High School, submitting new affidavits which said they no longer had space.

Instead, Prinsloo said it was unlikely that the two principals made such huge mistakes in the drafting of their affidavits. 

"I find it inherently improbable that these highly-qualified, experienced school principals would make such a vast mistake when making affidavits." 

Prinsloo then dropped a bombshell and read out a WhatsApp message reportedly between the chairperson of the governing body and the two principals. 

In the message, which was in Afrikaans, the principals claim that they changed their initial affidavits because the department had threatened to fire them unless they recanted their statements and declared the schools full.

Gauteng MEC of Education Panyaza Lesufi, who was in court, sighed in disbelief at this revelation. 

On Friday, the department argued that the school was built with 23 classrooms and only 17 are used for tuition, with the rest having been converted to specialised centres without the department's authority. 

The department wanted the classrooms which are now special centres to be converted into tuition rooms. 

Prinsloo dismissed this suggestion and said there were no classes available for the 55 learners, if one fully appreciates how a parallel medium works. 

"This is another display of irrational by the department of education," he said. 

He said that any attempt to restructure the facilities or dispose thereof would not be in the interest of the school or students. 

He further stated that he does not believe that one teacher would be able to handle the 55 pupils. He said even if it was possible, it is short notice to appoint a teacher now, as the teacher still has to undergo a vetting process.

In his closing remarks, Prinsloo said he is convinced that the school is already full and also found that the department was trying to unlawfully force the school to become dual medium school on short notice. 

African News Agency/ANA