ConCourt asked to hear Overvaal case

The Gauteng department of education wants the Constitutional Court to make a ruling on whether Hoërskool Overvaal has the constitutional right to only enrol Afrikaans-speaking pupils. The court’s decision will inform the department’s admission process for next year.

The department filed papers to the highest court in the land this week to appeal last month’s judgment by the high court in Pretoria in which Judge Bill Prinsloo ruled that the school did not have the capacity to convert to a dual-medium school in order for it to enrol 55 English-speaking pupils.

Initially the department had concluded that the school had space to accommodate the pupils and placed them. But the school governing body approached the court to reverse the decision, saying the department had no right to forcefully place the pupils given that the school had informed it of the constraints.

The head of the department, Edward Mosuwe, who is the first applicant in the case, said in an affidavit that the department approached the Constitutional Court to ensure that the circumstances affecting the admission process at the school were not repeated next year.

Mosuwe said that even though Hoërskool Overvaal in Vereeniging, south of Johannesburg, was established as a historically whites-only Afrikaans-medium school, the demographics around the school had since changed. Afrikaans-speakers are now a minority but the school governing body still insists that it must be a single-medium Afrikaans-language school.

“More than 20 years after the advent of democracy it remains an almost exclusively white school,” said Mosuwe, adding that out of 662 pupils 16 are African, seven are coloured and 639 are white.

Mosuwe said since 2016 there has been a demand from African residents who live near the school that it accommodate pupils who want to be taught in English, and that the department and the school governing body held talks from that year until late in 2017 without reaching consensus.

“The governing body has insisted that the school remains an exclusive Afrikaans medium of instruction school. It has also attempted to control admission of new learners to the school and has insisted that no learners may be admitted to the school unless they submit to Afrikaans-only instruction,” the department’s court papers state.

Mosuwe said the provincial admission regulations prohibited unfair discrimination on grounds of language and provides for a system of admissions that is dictated by location and not by language policy.

He said the refusal by the school to admit the 55 pupils and the decision of the high court led to the disruption of their education.

“Two days before the school year began, they were told by the high court that they could not go to the school at which they had been admitted. They are now scattered across public and private schools in the district. The department will invite them to intervene in this application so that they can describe their circumstances and finally participate in proceedings which have a direct impact on their rights and interests,” reads the affidavit.

He said the department hopes the Constitutional Court will offer a “final decision” before the start of the 2019 academic year.

There were several demonstrations and clashes outside Hoërskool Overvaal, which included racial confrontations, following the high court judgment.

Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.
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