private school based in Nelspruit, which is notorious for administering corporal punishment – and where a deputy minister’s niece died under mysterious circumstances – is remaining open, thanks to bungling by the provincial education department. The head of the Mpumalanga education department, Mahlasedi Mhlabane, appears to have violated regulations governing independent schools when she made a decision to shut down Cefups Academy.
Mhlabane deregistered the academy in October last year after Deputy Arts and Culture Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi’s niece, Paballo Seanne (19), died in July after she was allegedly sjambokked for failing a test.
In response, Cefups Academy president Simon Mkhatshwa lodged an urgent application in the North Gauteng High Court, where he obtained an order setting aside Mhlabane’s decision to deregister the school.
The court found the department had erred because it had not supplied the school with additional affidavits to support a report compiled by a departmental task team into operations at Cefups.
It also found that the school should have been furnished with the results of the postmortem of the pupil who died before the decision to shut it down was enforced.
According to the court, the head of the provincial education department should have given the school’s management an opportunity to rectify their mistake, as stipulated in the regulations.
In terms of the deregistration notice, Cefups should have closed down at the beginning of this year, but because of Mhlabane’s administrative mishandling of the matter, the school remains open.
Advocate Norman Davis, acting on behalf of the department, advised it against opposing the high court order, which set aside the department’s decision to deregister the academy, saying this would be “wasteful expenditure” because it had little chance of success.
In his legal opinion, Davis advised that although the decision to deregister the school was the correct one, the department had to redo the entire process and follow all correct procedures this time around.
“[Following procedures] would avoid wasteful expenditure in opposing litigation, where there is a risk or reasonable prospect of failure. It would clean the table, as it were, for a new decision to be made,” wrote Davis.
But despite the legal opinion, the department has decided to oppose the order obtained by the school’s management anyway.
Mpumalanga education spokesperson Jasper Zwane said: “The court ruled in favour of the school on their urgent application. The normal/main application is still pending in court and a process is in place to present the case of the department.
“The department is hopeful the court will rule in the best interest of the safety of pupils.”