The governing body of the Hoërskool Overvaal in Vereeniging had to adapt to changing demographics in the community but was using language to sow racial division, the Gauteng Education Department has argued.
Counsel for the department, Kumbarai Toma, argued that as long as a learner qualified in terms of the department’s admission criteria (which includes living within 5km of the school), the school had to admit the learner – whatever the language was – and leave the issue of how the learner would be taught to the department .
The school has asked the High Court in Pretoria to set aside the department’s 5 December directive that it must admit 55 additional English learners and thereby convert to a dual medium school.
Toma said Overvaal was the only secondary school servicing five suburbs which were now multi-racial, there was a high demand for English and the two English schools in the area were already full to over capacity, apart from being too far.
He said the community had been up in arms and demanding English classes at the school since 2016, prompting the department to ask the school to change its language policy but the school’s governing body made it clear that it “would never happen”.
Toma quoted the Constitutional Court ruling confirming the University of the Free State’s English-only policy, saying Overvaal’s refusal to admit learners based on language sowed racial division.
Judge Bill Prinsloo pointed out that the country officially had Portuguese, German, Greek and other schools and it was officially recognized “to have the odd Afrikaans school”.
Toma argued that the department, which had the sole responsibility for admissions, had already admitted 38 English learners to the school in July last year but the school refused to admit them based only on language.
The school even admitted 20 more Afrikaans pupils after the 5 December instruction to admit the 55 English learners so language and not capacity was the real issue, he added.
“There is no attack on the existence of single medium schools, but the dynamics of the community have changed and the SGB must adapt,” he said.
Although the principals of two neighbouring English schools said under oath their schools had the capacity to accommodate the extra 55 learners, Toma argued that their affidavits were based on the wrong information, they have since recanted their versions and it was clear that the schools were already over capacity.
Judge Prinsloo remarked that the principals – pillars of society – had set out in detail why they had the capacity, but two days later the department handed in “handwritten barely legible little notes” saying they had made a mistake.
Toma argued that Overvaal actually had 23 classrooms, but converted four of those for speciality subjects without the department’s permission, which meant the school was below capacity.