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Wed Oct 22 14:15:43 SAST 2014

Zille feels wrath of top judge

QUINTON MTYALA | 20 December, 2012 00:06
Helen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party
Image by: ROGAN WARD / Reuters

A CAPE Town High Court judge has slammed Western Cape Premier Helen Zille for "absolute gamesmanship" after she made a late concession in the dispute about the closure of schools in the province.

On the second day of hearing an application for the interdiction of the closing of 17 schools, Zille instructed her lawyers to negotiate a deal that would allow four schools on the Cape Flats to escape closure at the end of the year pending a review, expected next year, of public participation in the October decision to close schools.

Though those in the public gallery of the court celebrated the small "victory", Judge Seraj Desai was not impressed. He said Zille had wasted the court's time and made a "mockery" of the court process because an agreement could have been reached earlier.

"For the premier to make a concession after we've sat for two days is absolute gamesmanship," said Desai.

Earlier, the Western Cape education department's advocate, Eduard Fagan SC, defending the validity of the consultation of the public, said merely recording that a meeting took place demonstrated sufficient public representation in terms of the law.

A full bench of judges heard the application. Judgment is expected tomorrow.

Desai challenged Fagan on whether this was consistent with democratic practice.

"Surely, at the least, one would expect intelligent communication between this decision-maker [education MEC Donald Grant] and the adversely affected parties.

"Mechanically recording people's objections . what's the point of that?" asked Desai.

He also questioned the provincial education department's "haste" in closing the schools, originally 27 of them, later 20.

Seventeen schools are in a joint court bid for an interim order that would allow them to remain open and to have the public participation process ahead of the closure decision reviewed. An eighteenth school was found yesterday not to have been given permission to apply to the court.

Fagan said that the schools were being shut down "from an educational point of view" and that they had been failing for years.

But Judge Davis said the difficulty confronting the court was that the affected schools were given only five months to shut their doors.

Judge Desai said that, instead of being shut down, the schools failing their pupils should have been helped.

Judge Davis asked Fagan whether closing the schools was the last resort.

Fagan said a decision on whether to close the schools was based on a consideration of the performance of each of them individually.

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