South Africa: Ermelo language battle in court

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jul 14 18:26:18 UTC 2007

   Ermelo language battle in court

PRETORIA – The tax payer should have to spend R30 million building new
schools when classrooms were standing empty and children were going to
bed hungry, a Pretoria High Court Judge said on Friday.Transvaal Judge
President Bernard Ngoepe said this during argument by counsel for
Hoerskool Ermelo in an application for leave to appeal against a
ruling by a full bench of the high court that it become a dual medium
school.The school first went to court in February in an attempt to
retain its Afrikaans-only character. Judge Bill Prinsloo granted an
interim interdict, suspending a decision by an Mpumalanga education
department committee that the school admit pupils wanting to be taught
in English, and become dual medium.

A full bench of the high court later allowed Education Minister Naledi
Pandor and the mother of one of the English pupils to intervene, set
aside the interim order and compelled the school to enrol more than
100 English pupils.Only 19 eventually enrolled and were still in the
school, but the school is trying to prevent the enrolment of 150 more
next year.The school's lawyer, Colin van Onselen, argued that the
language medium of a school could not be decided by the minister, but
by the head of the province's education department.Children had a
right to education in the language of their choice, but could not
enforce that right against a particular school, even if that school
had empty classrooms.To this argument, Ngoepe said that pupils would
"end up on the streets" if they were not allowed into school, and that
the tax payer would then have to spend money to accommodate them."Why
should I spend R30 million to build new schools if classrooms are
standing empty?... I can't spend R30 million in a country where
children are going to bed hungry..." he said.

Van Onselen argued the school was in an "untenable" situation and
needed to stop a "flood" of pupils who might be removed from the
school.Counsel for the minister, Regent Tokota, SC, said the minister
did not have the right to determine a language policy, but had a
responsibility to provide quality education and to protect a child's
right to education.Judgment was reserved. –Sapa,1,22

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