Private schools, two departments and the eThekwini metro are embroiled in rates row

Some Durban private schools will have to hike fees drastically if they are forced to pay the property rates being demanded by the eThekwini municipality.

This warning was sounded by the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (Isasa), which is embroiled in a protracted high court battle with the municipality over its refusal to charge “public benefit organisations” rates according to a new ratio that was included in the amended Municipal Property Rates Act.

Isasa is acting on behalf of 18 schools, including Kearsney College, St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls, Maris Stella, Durban Girls College and Clifton College.

It wants the high court in Durban to order the municipality to charge nonprofit schools a property rate capped at 25% of the rate it charges for residential properties. This was the ratio included in the amended rates Act promulgated in March 2010 following a court order by the high court in Pretoria.

The eThekwini municipality has launched a counter-application in court against the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs and the national treasury to review and set aside the decision to promulgate the March 2010 regulations.

Isasa said in its founding application that a perception existed that independent schools were exclusive and wealthy and that “this is not always true” as some schools charged low fees and were under-resourced.

Isasa’s executive director, Lebogang Montjane, stated in the answering affidavit that the municipality’s rates policy was in breach of the 2010 regulations and that its successive rates policies for subsequent years were “unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid”.

“The municipality makes the elementary confusion of regarding as a business independent schools on the simplistic notion that they collect school fees. Isasa schools are nonprofit-making.”

Isasa’s member schools also include Hilton College and Michaelhouse in KwaZulu-Natal as well as St John’s College in Johannesburg, although these are not party to the court action.

“The minister [of co-operative governance and traditional affairs] is perfectly correct in suggesting that the total amount of rates that are forfeited by the municipality as a result of the impact of the March 2010 regulations on independent schools is insignificant.”

He said the municipality would forfeit R3-million and not R216.7-million as suggested by the municipality.

“The [municipality’s] figure is based on an incorrect calculation because it was calculated with reference to public benefit organisations and not to independent schools with which the application is concerned.”

Montjane said “extreme efforts” had been made by the two ministers (treasury and co-operative government) to settle the dispute with the municipality “but to no avail”.

“The ministers both consented to an order compelling them to publish regulations in the Government Gazette prescribing the ratio that should be charged for properties owned by public benefit organisations.

If the municipality insisted on charging its rate, the 18 schools would be R22.3-million in debt, said Montjane.

“Isasa estimates that the members would have to increase their school fees by amounts which would be simply unaffordable for the majority of the parents.

“Parents who can’t afford the increased school fees will be forced to disrupt the education of their children by pulling them out of the school. School bursaries which cater for poor children and are funded out of school fees will have to be discontinued.”

Veronica Mafoko, co-operative governance’s senior manager for municipal property rating, stated in court documents that the national policy stance is to recognise the positive contribution made by public benefit organisations, including schools, to the country’s socio-economic and developmental goals.

She said the municipality’s argument about the unconstitutionality of section 19 (1) (b) of the rates Act was “superfluous and an indication of the municipality’s lack of a credible defence of its noncompliance with the regulations”.

“That, I argue, is why the municipality seeks so many remedies. The municipality is fully aware that it has no leg to stand [on]. Put simply, the bid to declare section 19 (1) (b) unconstitutional amounts to a waste of the court’s time.”

Responding in court papers to Mafoko’s submission, the municipality’s chief legal officer, Siyabulela Mfingwana, rejected her statement. He said the schools received a full exemption for rates for 2008-2009 after they were “erroneously” not included on the rates roll.

He added that schools were billed in 2009 and were given an 87.5% rebate in 2009-2010 and a 50% rebate in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.

“eThekwini does not have a category of property termed ‘public benefit organisations’ property. Some private schools are, in fact, not public benefit organisations. Crawford College, for example, is a listed company.”

He stated that the two ministers could not lawfully promulgate the amended regulations without first following a further public process involving comment. “The ministers committed a patent error.” 

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

We developed a simple process to recycle urine. Here’s how it’s done

Most of the wastewater produced worldwide receives no treatment and the nutrients in wastewater go to waste. Here's how households can draw these nutrients from urine

Xenophobic tensions surge in KZN

Amid protests by the ANC’s MK Military Veterans, distressed foreign nationals have shut their stalls at a Durban flea market

South Africa’s coastal cities may lose their beaches

Urban tourist magnets have nowhere to retreat to as sea levels rise with climate change

DA cries foul play over muted mic

But high court rules in favour of the eThekwini municipality, as judge decries ‘political point-scoring’

eThekwini municipal manager out on bail, but signing off tenders

The NPA is investigating eThekwini municipal manager Sipho Nzuza to determine whether he broke his bail conditions while back at work.

Durban city manager says NPA erred in his bail conditions

The corruption-fraught metro is coming to grips with having a municipal manager who is on bail for graft, yet has returned to work

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

Shabnim Ismail bowls her way into the record books Down...

The night before Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) final, fiery South African fast bowler Shabnim Ismail lay awake pondering how...

Hawks make arrest in matric maths paper leak

Themba Daniel Shikwambana, who works at a printing company, was granted bail and is due to return to court in January

Andile Lungisa: Early parole for the house of truth

Disgraced Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Andile Lungisa calls for a change of leadership in the ANC immediately after being released on parole

War of words at Zondo commission: ‘Grow up Mr Gordhan,...

The cross-examination of the public enterprises minister by Tom Moyane’s lawyers at the state capture inquiry went on well into overtime on Monday evening

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…