Politics

South Africa: Education Department Misses Court Deadline to Pay Educators


Eastern Cape education department has now promised to pay staff at a Makhanda school by the end of August

Lawyers representing Mary Waters High School will soon file contempt of court papers against the Eastern Cape Department of Education.

The public school, with assistance from the Legal Resource Centre, had to take the department to court in order to get more teachers and to get its newly appointed educators paid.

In June, the court ordered the department to fill vacant teaching posts and appoint two additional teachers and two teaching assistants at Mary Waters.

Lawyers representing Mary Waters High School in Makhanda will soon file contempt of court papers against the Eastern Cape Department of Education for failing to fully comply with a court order.

At least two teachers at the school have been working without pay for two months and without appointment letters. They are yet to be paid for January and February. The school has also not yet appointed a curriculum advisor as ordered by the court.

However, the department told GroundUp on Tuesday that it plans to pay the teachers by the end of August.

In June, educators at Mary Waters High School, represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), lodged an urgent application against the department. The school asked the court to compel officials to fill vacant posts; make a plan to catch up on lessons for subjects that have not been taught; appoint two additional teachers to teach subjects in Afrikaans and English; and get the department to appoint and pay two teaching assistants who had been brought in to fill the shortage in 2021.

Judge Thamie Beshe of the High Court in Makhanda on 22 June ordered the department to comply with the school’s requests. Beshe ruled that the two teachers are to be employed as temporary educators until December 2022 and must get formal letters confirming this by no later than 30 June.

The department was also given 20 days from the date of the order to hire two educators.

This week, LRC attorney Cecile van Schalkwyk told GroundUp that the department has since appointed teachers in line with the court order but “those teachers are now working, pending the finalisation of the permanent appointments”.

Van Schalkwyk said the two teachers are yet to be paid for January and February, although they have been paid since March. She said a curriculum advisor has also not been appointed.

When the department missed the court’s deadline, Van Schalkwyk said the LRC, after meeting and consulting the school governing body (SGB), sent a letter to the department to respond by 29 July, but the department did not respond.

Learners forced to play catch-up

Mary Waters High School is one of the biggest no-fee schools in the region, with 1,145 learners. The school is registered as a dual medium school: 649 children receive instruction in English and 496 in Afrikaans.

Because the school has struggled for years to hire teachers who can teach subjects in both English and Afrikaans, learners have missed about 124 periods per week due to the shortage, according to court papers.

In a founding affidavit to the court, SGB chair Godfrey Brockman said the school has struggled with insufficient educators for a number of years.

Brockman said the school was shut down by parents and learners for weeks in May 2021 and again in April 2022 due to teacher shortages.

“The learners most affected are in grades 8 and 9 who have on average three subjects in which they have no educator. The failure by [the department] to provide the school with enough educators constitutes a violation of the learners’ rights to education, equality, and dignity, and is not in their best interest,” he said.