National

Ermelo school loses language battle

Staff Reporter

A ruling by a full bench of the Pretoria High Court on Wednesday put another nail in the coffin of Afrikaans-only education in state schools. The court dismissed with costs a review application by Hoërskool Ermelo to set aside a decision forcing it to admit English-speaking pupils and become a parallel-medium school.

A ruling by a full bench of the Pretoria High Court on Wednesday put another nail in the coffin of Afrikaans-only education in state schools.

Transvaal Judge President Bernard Ngoepe, Judge Willie Seriti and acting Judge Natvarial Ranchod dismissed with costs a review application by Hoërskool Ermelo to set aside a decision forcing it to admit English-speaking pupils and become a parallel-medium school.

The Mpumalanga education department revoked the powers of the school’s governing body to determine language policy and appointed a committee in its place when the school refused to admit English-speaking pupils.

The chairperson of the school’s governing body, Johan Ernst, told reporters they would first have to study the judgement, but the chances were good that they would continue with appeal procedures with a view to approach either the Supreme Court of Appeal or the Constitutional Court.

The judges had harsh words for the school and the way in which the few English-speaking pupils, who have so far been admitted, had been treated.

“It is clear that the attitude of the applicants is to consign learners wanting to be taught in English to any conditions anywhere, as long as they do not set foot at their school.

“This is a callous attitude towards the educational interests of learners from other sections of the communities.

“It is reminiscent of the pre-democratic era, when the educational rights of white learners were better catered for than those of learners of a different colour.

“Under the present Constitution, all learners have equal rights to state facilities, irrespective of language or colour. Clever jurisprudential argument, even in the name of the Constitution, will not detract from this,” they said.

They said the Education Department was confronted with a crisis when it withdrew the governing body’s powers as there were pupils sitting at home without schooling because all of the schools in the area were overcrowded.

It was therefore not necessary to first consult with the governing body.

They dismissed argument that the school lacked space as a smokescreen. A simple calculation would show that the school was most privileged, had the lowest learner-classroom ratio and was in fact allowed an astounding comfort zone.

Quoting from another ruling, the judges added that the right to a single medium public education institution (and the right to an extended curriculum) was clearly subordinate to the right of every South African to education, where there was a clearly proven need to share educational facilities with other cultural groups.

“The point of departure cannot be that there is any state school or public place which is a so-called ‘no go area’ for any of the official languages.

“That would make nonsense of section six of the Constitution of South Africa, which declares 11 languages to be official languages of the country. The section applies to every inch of the ground in this country,” they said.—Sapa

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