Friday 12 April

Media statement: SECTION27 applies for leave to appeal judgment to review sentences against two violent educators

2 December 2022, Johannesburg — SECTION27, representing Centre for Child Law (CCL) and the parents of two learners, will return to court on 6 December 2022, for the application for leave to appeal a High Court judgment.

The judgment was a partial victory in our campaign to enforce the ban of corporal punishment in schools. While the High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Division, Pretoria) ordered the South African Council of Educators (SACE) to revise its mandatory sanctions policy, it did not order SACE to reconsider the leniency with which it sentenced two violent teachers who used corporal punishment in their classrooms. SECTION27 is appealing this latter part of the judgment, on behalf of CCL and the parents (the applicants).

The matter stems from an application instituted in 2020, challenging the decisions of SACE for the lenient sanctions it imposed on the teachers who pleaded guilty for assaulting learners in their classrooms. In one case, a teacher was charged with beating two Grade 2 learners over the head with a PVC pipe, causing physical and psychological harm. After the incident, the teacher went on to intimidate one of the victims to try to prevent the child from reporting the incident. In the second instance, a teacher hit a Grade 5 learner across the face, causing the child to bleed from the ear.

Both of the above teachers were given identical sentences by SACE. They were fined R15,000, of which  R10,000 was suspended. The teachers received another suspended sentence of having their names struck off of the teachers’ roll for ten years. Their names would actually only be struck off of the roll if they were to be found guilty of perpetrating corporal punishment or some other contravention of SACE’s Code of Ethics in future. This means that despite their violent behaviour, both teachers are still in classrooms. Although present at the hearings where the teachers signed guilty pleas, the children who were subjected to corporal punishment and their parents were not given any meaningful opportunity to make submissions regarding the sentences. 

On 13 October 2022, Judge Dawie Fourie handed down a judgment dismissing the relief sought to force SACE to review its decisions concerning the lenient sentences imposed on the teachers. The Judge found that the applicants were unreasonable in their delay to institute the case and therefore dismissed our request for the court to order SACE to review their sentences. SECTION27 on behalf of the applicants will, on appeal, argue that the Judge erred in his interpretation of what constitutes an unreasonable delay when applying for a review. 

According to Judge Fourie, the applicants failed to institute review proceedings without unreasonable delay, as contemplated in section 7(1) of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act of 2000 (PAJA). This Act states that any review proceedings must be instituted without unreasonable delay and not later than 180 days after the date “on which the person concerned was informed of the administrative action” or “might reasonably have been expected to have become aware of the action and the reasons”. However, another section in the Act allows parties to launch review proceedings later than 180 days where the “interests of justice” require it. Read more about our arguments in our Notice of Application for Leave to Appeal and our Heads of Argument here.

SECTION27, on behalf of the applicants, was careful to ensure that SACE was provided with sufficient opportunity to provide reasons for its sentences for the two teachers before launching our case. SACE did not provide us with these reasons by the time we launched the application on behalf of CCL and the parents. 

Judge Fourie granted the applicants’ relief which aimed to amend SACE’s Mandatory Sanctions on Contraventions of the Code of Professional Ethics. However, this aspect of the judgment has been counter-appealed by SACE.

SACE is the professional body responsible for maintaining and protecting teachers’ ethical standards. Their code of professional ethics expressly prohibits any form of abuse, either physical or psychological, and SACE are empowered to investigate and sanction any teacher found guilty of this behaviour. SACE has an obligation to ensure that educators protect children, but their approach in both of the instances we have brought forward shows the opposite. SACE is one of the important institutions that can help address and stop corporal punishment in schools. SACE has, historically, imposed very lenient and ineffective sentences on teachers found guilty of corporal punishment, without addressing teachers’ violent behaviour or equipping them with the strategies to implement non-violent discipline in classrooms. For this reason, we are of the view that a court should order SACE to revisit the earlier sentences imposed on the two violent educators, so that a precedent is set that can assist in effectively enforcing the corporal punishment ban.

Although corporal punishment has been banned from South African schools since 1996, teachers still use extreme forms of corporal punishment to discipline learners. This contributes to continuing the culture of violence and abuse that already characterises many South African communities. Countless reports of learners being hit, thrown with objects, or abused in class indicate that the ban on corporal punishment is not being properly enforced in schools. In addition, teachers are not being held properly accountable when found guilty of corporal punishment. To improve accountability, SECTION27, the Centre for Child Law and the two parents of injured learners hope to be granted leave to appeal the judgment so that SACE reviews the two cases and less lenient sanctions are imposed on them.

Details for our application for leave to appeal the judgment:

Date: Tuesday 6 December 2022

Time: 9am

Location: Online. For access to the link, media can contact Ms Tsepang Mpuri via email on tsmpuru@gmail.com and tsmpuru@judiciary.org.za.

The European Union co-funds the “Enhancing accountability in health and education in South Africa” project, implemented by SECTION27 and the Centre for Child Law. 

[ENDS]

For media queries:

  • Julia Chaskalson (chaskalson@section27.org.za 0834402674) 

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