The Gauteng education department is accusing Afrikaans Hoërskool Overvaal in Vereeniging of sowing racial divisions by refusing to admit 55 English pupils on short notice when it reopens next week.
In court papers, the department referred to Afrikaans as a “separatist language with a legacy of sorrow and tears … that was used as a tool of segregation and discrimination during apartheid”.
It accused the school of using the language to deny transformation and deprive English pupils of their right to education.
The school asked the High Court in Pretoria to set aside the department‘s December 5 directive that it must admit 55 additional English pupils, arguing that the school was already full and two neighbouring English schools had places for them.
On Monday, Overvaal handed in affidavits in which the principals of the English schools stated under oath that they had space.
But two days later, the department handed in handwritten notes in which they recanted their statements.
Counsel for the education department, Kumbirai Toma, argued that the principals had used the wrong information and their schools were actually full to the point of overcapacity.
He said Overvaal had to admit pupils who qualified in terms of the department‘s admission criteria – whatever their language – and leave it to the department to determine how they would be taught.
He pointed out that Overvaal was the only secondary school servicing five suburbs, which were now multiracial, and there was a high demand for English.
Toma quoted the Constitutional Court ruling confirming the University of the Free State’s English-only policy, saying Overvaal’s refusal to admit pupils 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 recognised to have the odd Afrikaans school”.
Toma said there was “no attack on the existence of single-medium schools”, but the dynamics of the community had changed and the school governing body had to adapt to this.
He said Overvaal actually had 23 classrooms, but had converted four for speciality subjects without the department’s permission while other schools had to convert laboratories to classrooms just to keep up with demand.
This showed the school‘s intake was below capacity and that the actual issue was language. Prinsloo will deliver judgment on Monday.