26 February 2013

South Africa: Bhisho High Court Upholds Eastern Cape's Department of Education's Application

press release

On Monday 25 February 2013, the Bhisho High Court granted an urgent interim interdict against South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), whose persistent violation of children's right to basic education has reached a new crescendo. Repudiating a December 2012 High Court judgement in favour of the department, SADTU demonstrated the extent to which it is prepared to go in obstructing access to basic education in the Eastern Cape.

SADTU now went as far as staking the personal safety of the department's employees - evicting them from official premises under an express and real threat to life and limb.

SADTU's members caused major disruptions of the department's activities at the East London district office when they violently forced departmental personnel's evacuation of the premises. This, SADTU made clear, was the first of a concerted modus operandi to be repeated relentlessly throughout the province.

It was made equally clear that staff should not return to the premises - on pain of personal injury or death. Under this threat, the East London office was unable to function since Wednesday last week; and other district offices anticipated similar lawlessness.

To restore safety, law and order in its East London offices and to contain SADTU's openly-proclaimed province-wide rampage, the department (joined by the National Department of Basic Education, and the national Minister herself) approached the High Court for an urgent interim interdict.

Mr Justice Ebrahim granted the application. He ordered SADTU inter alia to return undisturbed possession to the department of its premises; to refrain from threatening further unlawful interference with the department's activities in furtherance of children's right to basic education; and to desist from interfering with previous court orders relating to the 2013 post establishment for educators.

The order operates until 21 May 2013, on which date SADTU must show cause why the order should not be made final. On that date SADTU should also show cause why it should not be punished with a punitive costs order for its patently unlawful conduct.

While the application was being heard, SADTU embarked - in demonstrable disregard of the pending court proceedings - on further disruptive behaviour in both King William's Town and Queenstown. This conduct, and similar threats to children's right to education and departmental staff's right to safety, is now explicitly prohibited by Mr Justice Ebrahim's order.

The department undertakes to ensure compliance with the order. If necessary, contempt of court proceedings will be instituted against SADTU and its members, who are liable to imprisonment should they fail to comply with the order.

The department confirms its commitment to the fulfilment of children's fundamental right to education, and implores SADTU, its members, all educators and civil society to work with the department to ensure that children receive the education to which they are constitutionally entitled.

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