12 July 2012

Today was meant to be the day that the vital hearing of the case on teacher post provisioning would be heard in the Eastern Cape High Court, Grahamstown. Hundreds of thousands of learners’ education depends on a positive outcome to this case, and a finding as to whether the provincial and national government have violated their rights.

However, once again the Minister of Basic Education and her department treated the court, and all the parties before the court, with contempt.

Despite having had more than a month to file an affidavit the Minister delayed doing so. On 10 July 2012, the Minister filed a brief answering affidavit associating herself with the Provincial Department’s case. She argued that the section 100(1)(b) intervention required no less of her than to “authorise” the Province to perform its existing obligations.

A day later, the heads of argument filed by the Minister dealt only with the technical issue of urgency: she argued that because learners had been without teachers for seven months, there is no reason to treat the matter as urgent at this late stage. However, at the end of argument her counsel conceded that not providing teachers or paying their salaries was urgent.

The Provincial Department sought to argue that because the applicants had not ‘joined’ the Treasury, SADTU and a large number of other interested parties the application should be delayed until these interested parties could be joined as part of the proceedings.

The respondents wanted to separate out the issues of urgency and non-joinder, and wait for a ruling on their preliminary points before arguing the merits of the case. This would have had the effect of delaying the hearing of this case.

Judge Beshe ruled that she would decide these issues after hearing full legal argument on all the facts and merits because this was in the ‘interests of justice and the matter was about the right to basic education’. There should therefore not be any unnecessary delay in hearing the case. After this ruling the government’s legal representatives immediately applied for an adjournment.

The reason was immediately obvious: they had come to court unprepared to argue the case and assuming that they would win on the point of non-urgency. This is reflected in their legal papers that were less than ten pages long and devoid of argument on the real issues. They dealt only with the argument that the appointment of teachers to teach learners who have been without teachers for half the school year is not urgent.

The Minister had been given the opportunity to respond to the facts and legal submissions in this case. She has had more than six weeks to respond to the applicants’ argument. However, her legal representatives sought a postponement to allow them an opportunity to deal with additional facts. Although a postponement was vigorously opposed by the Centre for Child Law and the other applicants it was granted. A new court date has been set for 26 July 2012.

The consequence of crisis of teacher shortages in the Eastern Cape is as grave as the crisis of text books in Limpopo and deserves equal outrage. School starts again on Monday 16 July 2012 and, once again, learners will be at a massive disadvantage. It is time for parents, learners and teachers to stand up together and demand basic education. We call on parents and learners to come to court to demonstrate their mounting anger, as well as to show the government and the judiciary that this matter – and other matters going to the core of basic education – is of extreme importance and is to be taken seriously.

For further comment:

Centre for Child Law: Ann Skelton 082 443 2702

Legal Resources Centre: Sarah Sephton 083 410 7646

SECTION27: Nikki Stein 082 528 7232 or Mark Heywood 083 634 8806