DBE gets new court order in ongoing Eastern Cape 'schools furniture saga'

JANUARY 27, 2016

The National Department of Basic Education (DBE) must now form a Task Team, assess school fur­ni­ture needs of all East­ern Cape schools, and deliver all the fur­ni­ture needed 30 April 2017.

This is according to an order made by agree­ment between the Min­is­ter and the Cen­tre for Child Law (CCL), rep­re­sented by the Grahamstown-based Legal Resources Cen­tre on Tuesday. This is the fourth court order to be made in the school fur­ni­ture saga that has been plagu­ing schools in the province for years.

Accord­ing to one list com­piled by the East­ern Cape Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion (ECDOE) in 2014, almost 40% of the province’s 5,700 schools needed fur­ni­ture.

"Court orders in 20122013, and 2014 in Mad­zodzo and seven oth­ers v the Min­is­ter of Edu­ca­tion and four oth­ers have all resulted in more than 200 000 units of fur­ni­ture being deliv­ered to schools in the East­ern Cape," the LRC said in a statement.

"But many schools con­tinue to have learn­ers sit­ting on the floor, sit­ting on makeshift seats made from bricks and paint tins, or sit­ting four to a desk designed for two. It is hardly sur­pris­ing that the East­ern Cape Province had one of the worst matric pass rates at the end of 2015."

The Centre said that the  2014 judg­ment by Judge Goosen in Mad­zodzo ordered the Min­is­ter to respond to the fur­ni­ture short­ages endemic to schools in the province.

"The judg­ment was sig­nif­i­cant in its reaf­fir­ma­tion that edu­ca­tion is an imme­di­ately real­is­able right and that fur­ni­ture forms part of that right. It also high­lighted that resource and bud­get con­straints are not an accept­able excuse where a con­sti­tu­tional right is being vio­lated, espe­cially when the Min­is­ter knows about the vio­la­tion of the right and the short­age of infra­struc­ture.

"While the 2014 judg­ment directed the Min­is­ter to deliver all fur­ni­ture required by schools in the province by 30 May 2014, the court also gave the Min­is­ter an oppor­tu­nity to approach the court for an exten­sion of the time­frame," it described.

"The court order handed down today is a com­bi­na­tion of the Minister’s appli­ca­tion for an exten­sion, and the CCL’s counter appli­ca­tion for sys­temic relief in the form of a new audit, pub­li­ca­tion of the audit find­ings, report­ing require­ments, and a spec­i­fied date for deliv­ery of all fur­ni­ture." 

Accord­ing to the affi­davits filed by the state in this mat­ter, approx­i­mately R300 mil­lion has been allo­cated to fur­ni­ture pro­duc­tion and deliv­ery since the incep­tion of the lit­i­ga­tion, and 280 140 units of fur­ni­ture have been deliv­ered to schools.

There have been five attempts to audit fur­ni­ture needs in the East­ern Cape (four by ECDOE and one by the Inde­pen­dent Devel­op­ment Trust) but the data pro­duced has always been seri­ously flawed [see fact sheet attached].

"Today’s court order requires the Min­is­ter to appoint a fur­ni­ture task team to pre­pare a con­sol­i­dated list of fur­ni­ture needs of all pub­lic schools in the East­ern Cape and to pub­lish it on the ECDOE or Depart­ment of Basic Edu­ca­tion web­site by 31 May 2016. This list will need to be ver­i­fied by 31 August 2016 and the Min­is­ter is required to ensure that those schools need­ing fur­ni­ture receive the age and grade appro­pri­ate fur­ni­ture by 1 April 2017," LRC said.

"The CCL and the LRC wel­come the lat­est court order. Although the order does not appoint an inde­pen­dent body to ensure per­for­mance as was requested by the CCL in its counter appli­ca­tion, it is hoped that this order will be com­plied with and that East­ern Cape learn­ers’ right to a basic edu­ca­tion in a prop­erly equipped envi­ron­ment will be upheld."