High Court reverses order to protect Manenberg schools

Sibusiso Tshabalala
Manenberg council flats.
Sibusiso Tshabalala

The Cape Town High Court has overturned its order that would have forced the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to provide safety and security for five Manenberg schools.

On 25 February 2014, the WCED filed an application to rescind the order the court made last Friday.

In a press statement released yesterday afternoon, the WCED wrote: “The rescinding of the order does not reduce the WCED’s commitment to ensuring the safety of our educators and learners.”

The WCED claims that the order that would have forced the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) had placed “unrealistic demands on an education department,” such as “ensuring safe passage of people through Manenberg.”

Furthermore, the WCED says that its application to the High Court was to ensure that all the relevant government agencies are included in the court application. These agencies include: SAPS, the Provincial Department of Community Safety, and the City of Cape Town’s safety and security directorate.

GroundUp spoke to Sherylle Dass, Senior Attorney at the Equal Education Law Centre. Dass said that the temporary order passed by Judge Elizabeth Baartan was framed in very broad terms.

Dass said, “Our intention was that the order would operate in specific terms, to ensure that it is workable for all parties involved.” She said that, although the Department believed the community wanted members of SAPS to escort learners to school and home again, the community only wanted the SAPS to provide armed security for learners inside the schools.

The Equal Education Law Centre says that the intention of their applicants – the Manenberg Teachers’ Steering Committee – was not to place unreasonable demands on the WCED.

“The substantive issue here is that given the severity of the matter, the WCED has an extended duty of care. We’re not asking them to do the work of the SAPS. We are asking them to take a leading role in ensuring that both learners and teachers are safe at schools,” said Dass.

Dass added that the learners’ constitutional right to education places a direct duty of care on the WCED to provide a safe schooling environment. “This right – the right to education – should ensure that at any time, learners feel safe and secure in their learning environment.”

The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 85 of 1993 guarantees teachers (as employees) the right to a protected and safe working environment. Under the act, an employer has a responsibility to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risk to its employees.

Despite rescinding the order, Judge James Yekiso called on the five schools to monitor the situation and to file an application to the court, if necessary.

Dass said, “We are happy that the door is still open. We may however approach the court again in two weeks. The SAPS has informed us that they will be revisiting the deployment of their officials at the schools.”

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