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Press Release: New court order in Eastern Cape schools’ furniture saga

Press Release: New court order in Eastern Cape schools’ furniture saga

Published by Legal Resources Centre 26 January 2016

For Imme­di­ate Release: 26 January 2016

 

DBE must form Task Team, assess school furniture needs of all Eastern Cape schools, and deliver all the furniture needed 30 April 2017.

Today in the Mthatha High Court, the National Minister of Education has been ordered to set up a “furniture task team” for Eastern Cape schools, audit the schools’ furniture needs, and supply all the furniture needed before 1 April 2017.

The order is made by agreement between the Minister and the Centre for Child Law (CCL), represented by the Legal Resources Centre, and is the fourth court order to be made in the school furniture saga that has been plaguing schools in the province for years. According to one list compiled by the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE) in 2014, almost 40% of the province’s 5,700 schools needed furniture.

Court orders in 2012, 2013, and 2014 in Madzodzo and seven others v the Minister of Education and four others have all resulted in more than 200 000 units of furniture being delivered to schools in the Eastern Cape. But many schools continue to have learners sitting on the floor, sitting on makeshift seats made from bricks and paint tins, or sitting four to a desk designed for two. It is hardly surprising that the Eastern Cape Province had one of the worst matric pass rates at the end of 2015.

The 2014 judgment by Judge Goosen in Madzodzo ordered the Minister to respond to the furniture shortages endemic to schools in the province. The judgment was significant in its reaffirmation that education is an immediately realisable right and that furniture forms part of that right. It also highlighted that resource and budget constraints are not an acceptable excuse where a constitutional right is being violated, especially when the Minister knows about the violation of the right and the shortage of infrastructure. 

While the 2014 judgment directed the Minister to deliver all furniture required by schools in the province by 30 May 2014, the court also gave the Minister an opportunity to approach the court for an extension of the timeframe. 

The court order handed down today is a combination of the Minister’s application for an extension, and the CCL’s counter application for systemic relief in the form of a new audit, publication of the audit findings, reporting requirements, and a specified date for delivery of all furniture. 

According to the affidavits filed by the state in this matter, approximately R300 million has been allocated to furniture production and delivery since the inception of the litigation, and 280 140 units of furniture have been delivered to schools. There have been five attempts to audit furniture needs in the Eastern Cape (four by ECDOE and one by the Independent Development Trust) but the data produced has always been seriously flawed.

Today’s court order requires the Minister to appoint a furniture task team to prepare a consolidated list of furniture needs of all public schools in the Eastern Cape and to publish it on the ECDOE or Department of Basic Education website by 31 May 2016. This list will need to be verified by 31 August 2016 and the Minister is required to ensure that those schools needing furniture receive the age and grade appropriate furniture by 1 April 2017.

The CCL and the LRC welcome the latest court order. Although the order does not appoint an independent body to ensure performance as was requested by the CCL in its counter application, it is hoped that this order will be complied with and that Eastern Cape learners’ right to a basic education in a properly equipped environment will be upheld.  
ENDS

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