Judges 'shocked' by Ermelo school's 'insensitivity'

Three Pretoria High Court judges have described the “insensitivity” of Hoërskool Ermelo and its governing body to students who did not want to be taught in Afrikaans as “shocking”.

Transvaal Judge President Bernard Ngoepe and Judges Willie Seriti and Natvarial Ranchod on Friday dismissed with costs the school’s application for leave to appeal against their judgement—which put another nail in the coffin of Afrikaans-only education in state schools.

The judges last year dismissed the school’s application to set aside a decision by the Mpumalanga education department to revoke the powers of its governing body to determine language policy, appoint a committee in its place and force the school to become a parallel-medium school.

On Friday, the judges said the court “cannot help perpetuate a situation in terms of which non-Afrikaans-speaking children in the area continue to be overcrowded [in schools], as statistics show”.

“The applicants, apart from boldly stating that they do not have classrooms available, do not show how—given the now admittedly all-time low number of their students (on the facts before us the lowest in the history of the school)—so many classrooms get all used up.

“They do not even concede a few or indeed a single classroom. Nor were they bothered about the fact that they accommodated children not yet in the school’s grades or from outside the area,” they said.

The judges earlier chastised the school and its governing body for what was termed their “callous attitude” towards the educational interests of pupils from other sections of the community.

This attitude, they said, was “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”.

The school’s principal, Koos Kruger, was this week suspended with full pay and forbidden to enter the school without the authorisation of regional director Nokuthula Mthethwa—after 95 English-speaking pupils were left stranded in the school hall without receiving classes when the school reopened for 2008.

The school claimed there was no room for the pupils as all classrooms were already being used and that the education department had also failed to provide it with handbooks or extra teachers for the newcomers.

The department said in a statement that Kruger had been suspended “on grounds of allegations of misconduct for which the department has charged him in terms of the Employment of Educators Act”. The principal’s disciplinary hearing is set to start on January 30 in Ermelo.

A circuit manager of the education department in Ermelo, CAF Hlatshwayo, was appointed in Kruger’s place until further notice.

The high court last year dismissed argument that the school lacked space as a “smokescreen”, adding 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.—Sapa


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