VICTORY FOR GELUKSDAL SECONDARY SCHOOL LEARNERS! GAUTENG DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ORDERED TO FIX DANGEROUS INFRASTRUCTURE
SECTION27 calls on MEC Panyaza Lesufi and the Gauteng Department of Education to fix electrical equipment and security infrastructure at Geluksdal Secondary School.
7 February 2022, Johannesburg – The Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has 15 days to show the court what steps it will take to fix unsafe infrastructure at Geluksdal Secondary School in Brakpan.
SECTION27 welcomes the relief granted earlier today by Judge Senyatsi of the High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Local division Johannesburg) in the unopposed matter of Mahudu and Others v. Minister of Basic Education and Others,and intends to monitor that the infrastructure problems at the school are resolved speedily to prevent further violations of learners’ rights. Throughout the litigation proceedings, government officials have remained silent and have not engaged on this matter. It is disappointing that education officials have remained unreachable about a case surrounding the safety of learners while at school.
Longstanding infrastructure issues at the school including unsafe electrical equipment and lack of security resulted in the tragic death of a matric learner in January 2017. Because of the GDE’s failure to replace life-saving and statutorily required circuit breakers and earth leakage equipment that had been stolen from the school, the learner died of electrocution when they touched the metal doorframe of a mobile classroom in a thunderstorm. Despite it being more than five years since the learner passed away, the GDE has failed to fix the unsafe infrastructure at the school or even engage with stakeholders about plans to fix the infrastructure. While this inaction continues, learners remain at risk of injury or death while at school. This relief is important because it forces the GDE to urgently fix the unsafe infrastructure at the school and report on progress made to address infrastructure problems.
The family of the deceased learner, represented by Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr Inc (CDH) approached the court to make sure that the school infrastructure is repaired, replaced and properly secured so that a tragedy like this never happens again. SECTION27 intervened as amicus curiae to provide the court with information about the history of unsafe school infrastructure; to speak on the need for better security at schools to prevent life-saving equipment like earth leakage and circuit breakers from being stolen; and the responsibilities of education officials at different levels of the education system to ensure that learners are safe at school. SECTION27 has been involved in numerous cases about injuries or deaths of learners because of unsafe school infrastructure, and remains committed to fighting for all schools – especially ones in socio-economically disadvantaged areas – to have access to safe and decent infrastructure.
The draft order submitted to the court by CDH was made an order of the court, requiring the GDE to:
- urgently replace and repair circuit breakers, earth leakage and other electrical equipment at the school;
- reprimand Gauteng Education officials within the Works Inspection department who did not report on the death of the learner in 2017;
- clarify the roles and responsibilities of different officials within the department to make sure that electrical infrastructure maintenance is undertaken
- improve security at the school to prevent repeated theft of life-saving electrical equipment
- discipline officials who failed to take action following the unsafe infrastructure being reported.
The GDE is ordered to report on these points, among others, within 15 days. Heard on the unopposed roll, Judge Senyatsi stated: “I am in agreement 100% – there is a proper case in this case, the relief must be granted.”
When the theft of earth leakage and circuit breakers from Geluksdal Secondary were reported to district and provincial education officials, no action was taken. This order sets an important precedent surrounding the accountability of education officials responsible for ensuring school infrastructure is safe. It also demonstrates the importance of having a safe learning environment – which includes safe electrical equipment and security – to protect the rights of learners.
We call on education authorities, especially Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, to do the right thing and ensure that the unsafe infrastructure at Geluksdal Secondary School is fixed without delay. More broadly, it is critical that education authorities fulfil their constitutional duties to ensure that schools are safe and conducive for learning by implementing the the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure.
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- Julia Chaskalson (firstname.lastname@example.org ; 0834402674)
Note for editors: SECTION27 does not represent the bereaved family and is not at liberty to give out their particulars, but we can comment on systemic issues of unsafe school infrastructure in South African schools.