Coronavirus News Africa

Schools reopening: High court strikes EUSA bid to have decision overturned off the roll

Pupils being screened at Olievenhoutbosch Secondary School (GPG Media)

  • While most schools have reopened across the country, the Educators Union of South Africa had approached the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to have the decision overturned.
  • The union argued that the decision posed a risk to the lives of pupils and teachers. 
  • On the other hand, Solidarity, who joined as a friend of the court, argued for the reopening.

An urgent application by the Educators Union of South Africa (EUSA) to interdict the reopening of schools was struck off the roll by the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Wednesday.

The union had argued before Judge Makhubele that the decision to reopen schools amid the Covid-19 pandemic posed a risk to pupils and teachers.

Solidarity had joined the matter as a friend of the court, arguing that the relief sought by EUSA was disruptive, would impact on the academic year and have drastic effects on the schooling programme. It would also violate the constitutional rights of pupils and teachers, Solidarity’s deputy chief executive Werner Human told News24.

Human said the matter was important to the union, which was why it decided to intervene and argued in favour of schools reopening.

“We argued in favour of ultimately schools deciding when they should open in compliance with the standards that have been set with the regulations. The regulations that have been published provide a sufficient framework wherein schools can make themselves ready,” said Human.

He added that Judge Makhubele struck the matter off the roll with costs, finding that it was not urgent and there was a material defect in the case by EUSA.

“As Solidarity, we are pleased with this outcome. We view this as a victory for learners in order to have access to education and also for educators to have access to their work. We are in favour of a safe learning and working environment and we reject any attempt by any organisation or individual that will seek to have a blanket ban on schools,” Human said.

READ |  Teachers’ union in court bid to stop schools from opening tells its members to stay home

Schools in the country reopened on Monday after being closed for more than two months because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the department had expected the outcome because bids by other parties who had attempted to have the reopening of schools overturned had previously failed.

“We felt it was a waste of the court’s time to keep attempting to have schools [not] reopen because they have already opened and health and safety measures are being followed in schools.

“The decision [to reopen] was not just by education alone, it was advised by experts who are in the medical field. We have done all they said we needed to do in order to protect pupils and we are going to continue doing all we can to protect learners and teachers,” said Mhlanga.

He added that schools were settling in after resuming on Monday, adding that there was no chaos, with pupils being screened and maintaining physical distancing.

“In the process of screening, some learners who have the virus are picked up, isolated, tested and quarantined while others continue with learning. This return to school is assisting even those people who have the virus but didn’t know they have [it],” Mhlanga said.

Earlier News24 reported that multiple calls to EUSA national spokesperson Kabelo Mahlobongwane were unanswered at the time of publication.

‘Challenging minister’s decision’

In a statement thereafter, Mahlobongwane said the judge ruled that the application had no joiner of the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, education MECs and other stakeholders – and that the application was made after schools were opened. 

Mahlobongwane said the reasons, however, did not make sense because parties had the right and opportunity to join the application, if they had interest. 

“We saw no reason to include the Cogta minister and MECs because we were not challenging the lockdown regulations or the Disaster Management Act, we were challenging the reckless and deadly decision by Basic [Education] Minister, Angelina Motshekga. 

“We never were opposed to the continuation of education. We called for a form of education which does not endanger the lives of teachers and learners – and which is in line with the demands of Covid-19,” Mahlobongwane said in the statement. 

The union said the fact that schools had reopened two days ago had made the application an urgent one because “infections have already forced more than 90 schools to close across the country”.

Mahlobongwane added that the union would wait for the written judgment and study it before penning a way forward, adding they would not back down on their fight to protect pupils and teachers. 

*This article has been updated to reflect comment from EUSA, which had not been published earlier. 

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