School gates still locked over R3.3 million rent dispute

2014-08-13 12:52

Nearly 300 Mpumalanga pupils have been shut out of their classrooms for more than a week because of a fight over money between the education department and a farmer.

The Mpumalanga department of education owes farmer Jan Brits R3.3 million in rent for the Trichardtsfontein Combined School. It has not paid fees for more than two years.

Brits obtained a high court order to lock the doors of the school on his farm near Secunda last week and the 296 children doing grade R to grade 9 have not had a single lesson for eight days.

After discussions between officials from the department and Brits’ lawyer Adri van Schalkwyk, it was agreed that the department would pay R442 238 by today and also sign a settlement agreement committing it to paying R2.8 million before August 24.

The government has not paid Brits any money and the school governing body (SGB) alleged that the department has been telling parents it had paid.

Provincial education spokesperson Jasper Zwane did not answer calls on his mobile phone and a text message from City Press.

Van Schalkwyk said: “Our client has not received any payment today and the department has not signed the settlement agreement. Once this is done, our client will open the school.”

Van Schalkwyk said the department had not signed a new agreement with Brits as it had allegedly been telling pupils’ parents.

She said that the showdown started last December when Brits locked the school without an eviction order, but the department successfully challenged him in court.

Brits bought the farm in 2011 and said he has injected his own money and raised funds from petro-chemical company Sasol to build two classrooms worth R300 000.

“I’m so sad about this. The department is neglecting its own duties and the children are suffering. The market-related rent for the property is R125 000 a month and I ask the department for only R75 000. A company offered me a market-related value but I turned them down,” Brits said.

Trichardtsfontein SGB chairperson Absalom Mthimunye said the SGB, parents and some of the children took a bus yesterday to meet MEC Reginah Mhaule in Mbombela but were told she was unavailable.

“The department has not been telling the truth. They told me just yesterday that they’ve paid, but the children are still not in class today,” said Mthimunye.

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