Municipality in court for cutting off water to school with 500 learners

Judge orders Mogale City to immediately reinstate the water supply to Krugersdorp school

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Illustration: Lisa Nelson

  • Mogale City Municipality must immediately restore water supply to John Martin Catholic School in Krugersdorp, the High Court has ordered.
  • The school has been fetching water for its almost 500 learners from a nearby church since April.
  • The municipality had not taken the matter seriously, the judge said, ordering the municipal manager and his attorneys to say why they should not personally pay the costs of the court application.

A Johannesburg High Court judge has ordered Mogale City Municipality to immediately reinstate the water supply to a local school.

The John Martin Catholic School in Krugersdorp, in an urgent application which came before acting Judge Zubair Khan, said since the water was cut off in April this year, almost 500 learners and staff were forced to fetch water in buckets for ablution from a nearby church.

While the municipality opposed the application, Judge Khan said neither its municipal manager nor its attorneys had taken the matter seriously, in spite of it concerning the constitutional rights of children. The judge has put them on terms to file affidavits to explain why they should not have to personally pay the costs of the application.

He also reported the advocate acting for the municipality to the Legal Practice Council for his conduct during the proceedings.

In his ruling, which he gave extempore and which has been transcribed, Judge Khan said the school was situated in an impoverished area and catered largely for underprivileged children.

Whilst it was a private school, it charged fees of only R4,000 a year.

There had been mismanagement, but a proper system had now been put in place and a new board was attempting to “clean up the mess”.

He said there had been protracted negotiations with the local authority over the water bill but, in April this year, the water was cut off.

Since then, water was collected in buckets from a Catholic church across the road.

The papers indicated that the municipality had dug in its heels, and was demanding money for estimated consumption readings, some of which had become prescribed, as well as other sundry charges.

He said at one stage, when he stood the matter down for representatives of the school to be in attendance, the advocate for the municipality, Emmanuel Sithole, had become agitated, “complaining loudly”.

“He slapped his papers down on the desk. He smacked his hand on the table,” Judge Khan said.

Sithole had also said he was appearing in another court on the same day.

Having regard to the Constitution and the rights of children, Judge Khan said he directed the municipality to give the school all of its municipal accounts, dating back to 2017, by 4pm on that day.

But these were never handed over.

The judge also ordered that the municipality’s legal manager come to court the following week, with the hope of resolving the impasse through negotiation but no one arrived.

When the matter was called, counsel for the school handed up a draft settlement agreement and said advocate Sithole needed to simply forward an email confirming that it could be made an order of court.

But no email came.

Judge Khan said, “My registrar called his number repeatedly between 1pm and 1:40 pm and Mr Sithole did not take any phone calls despite his cellphone ringing.”

Sithole then sent an email to the registrar saying he could not attend court, suggesting an online hearing, and that he had to fetch his child from school.

“I refrain from making further comments regarding this email but believe that such conduct of Mr Sithole must be reported to professional bodies,” Judge Khan said.

He said it was clear that there was an ongoing dispute about the bill and charges which had been unilaterally raised without explanation.

It was perplexing that the municipality had still not produced the accounts, as directed by the court, he said.

“This is in clear contravention of their obligations in terms of the Municipal Systems Act read with the relevant bylaws. The applicant [the school] says that they have been attempting to procure municipal accounts for many months and have been unsuccessful.”

The judge said the municipality was not taking the matter seriously and had distanced itself from its constitutional obligations.

He said the school had offered to pay over R400,000 immediately, albeit in protest, and the municipality had failed to “snatch this bargain”.

His registrar, when he could not contact Sithole, had also attempted to contact the municipality’s attorneys, Madhlopa Thenge Inc, but these calls were also unanswered and nobody returned the calls, in spite of him leaving messages.

The attorneys had also not attended court which was “further shocking conduct where an attorney merely acts as a labour broker to pass work from a client to an advocate without partaking in the legal process”.

He said the attorneys and the City manager could file affidavits explaining why they should not be held personally responsible for the costs of the application, which he granted on a punitive scale.

He directed the municipality to immediately restore the water at the school and directed that the school take legal action within 30 days against the municipality to finally sort out the billing mess.

He also ordered the municipality to rectify the school’s account and remove certain charges, including those that had become prescribed.

He directed that the school make the R400,000 payment as a “pre-estimation of any monies which may be due”.

TOPICS:  Education Water

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