The Eastern Cape education department has allegedly failed to comply with a court order, leaving thousands of pupils without school desks and chairs.
"While three schools – the original co-applicants – did get furniture, hundreds of thousands of pupils have not," the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), which is representing applicant Centre for Child Law, said in a statement on Tuesday.
This constitutes a violation of pupils' right to a basic education, it said.
"The department did conduct an audit but it is riddled with gross irregularities and excludes hundreds of schools."
The new court application was filed on August 23. It asked the court to declare the provincial department as well as the basic education department in breach of a November court order; and to appoint an independent body to file a revised audit of furniture needs within 90 days. It called for all furniture to be in schools within 90 days of that.
A spanner was thrown in the works, however, when Eastern Cape businessperson Bongile Nkola alleged last week that the department’s latest R30-million school furniture purchase that was made in an attempt to comply with the November court order, was irregular and unlawful, the Daily Dispatch reported on Friday.
Nkola had asked the Eastern Cape High Court in Bhisho on Thursday to interdict any further sale of school furniture by five other suppliers, the Daily Dispatch said.
"Interdicting the procurement of furniture will certainly not be in the best interests of our clients and we have intervened in that matter to say as much. If there are tender irregularities they should not be fixed by preventing children from getting the furniture they desperately need," said LRC attorney Cameron McConnachie.
The department estimated that at least R300-million is needed to fully comply with the November 29 court order.
The Centre for Child Law and 17 schools obtained a court order on June 6 forcing the department to appoint teachers and pay their salaries by June 30. The LRC asked for a clause to be included, which allowed it to apply to attach the state's assets to cover the debt. The Centre for Child Law made the application in August.
LRC regional director Sarah Sephton said on Tuesday that some of the 13 teachers it represents had still not been appointed or paid. If this were still the case by Friday, the sheriff would start removing state assets to the value of more than R600 000.
Last week, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said the Eastern Cape owes a staggering R596-million in salaries to temporary teachers.
"According to [a parliamentary] reply [to a DA question], as at 30 April 2013, 233 temporary teachers appointed in January 2013 were owed R258.5-million, and 1 217 teachers appointed from April 2013 were owed R337.5-million,” said Michael de Villiers, the DA member of the Eastern Cape national council of provinces.
Sephton said unpaid teachers lives' were "in a deep state of crisis".
Closed the door on schools
"The most fundamental breach of the right to education has come about by the department's repeated failure to deal with the problem of teachers in excess and to appoint teachers to all vacant substantive posts," she said.
"They remain in defiance of a court order from August 2012 in that they have not appointed teachers to all vacant posts and they've left schools with as many as 1 000 learners with no support staff. They've closed the door on schools that are entitled to be reimbursed for money that they spent on teachers that should have been appointed by the state.”
Neither of the departments responded to the Mail & Guardian’s questions.