Education department blames Grootkraal community for delays

Supreme Court of Appeal to hear case on community’s right to land in Oudtshoorn

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Photo of protesters outside court
Demonstrators outside the Western Cape High Court during the Grootkraal hearings. Archive photo: Ashleigh Furlong

The Western Cape Department of Education “is not in a position to decide” on the fate of a primary school in Oudtshoorn currently facing eviction. This is nearly seven years after the matter was first brought to court. This was in report handed to the Western Cape High Court by the Department’s lawyer on 28 March.

The Grootkraal community faces the closure of its primary school if evicted from a piece of land near the Cango Caves in Oudtshoorn. At a previous court hearing in October 2017, Judge Elizabeth Baartman reprimanded Western Cape MEC for Education Debbie Schafer for having not come up with a plan for the school, which is situated on land owned by the Kobot Besigheid Trust.

The Grootkraal Primary School has been operating on the land since 1931, and church services have been held on the property since the early 1800s.

The school currently faces eviction after the Department was unable to reach a lease agreement with the new landowners. The Department of Education has not opposed the eviction.

Before the eviction can take place, the Department must first comply with a 2011 court order. That court order interdicted the MEC and the head of the Western Cape Education Department from closing down or relocating Grootkraal without proper consultation.

The court had also ordered that if Grootkraal was relocated, the new school would need to cater for the health and education needs of learners and staff and provide adequate transport in the event of a relocation.

In the report filed with the Western Cape High Court, the Department said that since Judge Baartman’s order last year, attempts to meet with the school and community to discuss its future have been unsuccessful.

“The Department requested the meeting to ascertain what measures the school, governing body and community considered should be in place should the court grant an eviction order. However, the parties made it clear that they were not prepared to vacate the school premises, even if ordered to do so,” the report read.

The Department said the school and community were “very confident” of their pending application for servitude in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) regarding their rights to the land. The SCA has since accepted this application, but no date has been set for the hearing yet.

Meanwhile on 29 September 2017, the Trust proposed to lease the land to the Department for a further two years at a fee of R14,520 for the first year and R15,391 for the second. During this time, the Department was to move the school from the property and to pay the Trust’s legal costs for the main and counter-applications. The Department, in its report to the court, rejected this proposal.

“The Department cannot accede to any of the proposals put forward by the Trust. First, the community’s appeal against this court’s order refusing its claim for a public servitude [which is when someone has a registered right to use another person’s property] is pending before the Supreme Court of Appeal and a successful appeal will be a factor in any decision regarding the future of the school. Second, the Department cannot commit to a time period within which to move the school as that may be pre-judging the outcome,” the report stated. The Department said that because of the “community’s resistance to vacate the school premises” it was up to the High Court to decide on the Trust’s proposal.

On Thursday, legal representatives met with Judge Baartman in chambers to discuss what needs to happen in the matter. But a source at the court confirmed to GroundUp that no decision was made and that Baartman was waiting on the outcome of the SCA matter before she made an order.

In the meantime, the school and church remains on the land and are still open.

TOPICS:  Education Grootkraal eviction

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