Twist in battle over access

2014-01-30 00:00

THE bitter tug-o-war between a landowner and the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education has ended for now — with the department expropriating the farmer’s land.

Relieved parents of pupils yesterday reacted with joy after hearing that their children could still attend Oakford Primary and Sacred Heart High schools in Verulam.

The department and Professor Marius Maritz, who owns the land on which the schools are situated, had been locked in a battle over the entrance to the schools that dates back several years.

The expropriation of land came at a time when most of the teachers at Sacred Heart wanted to throw in the towel because they were uncertain about their future. The department yesterday issued a media statement under the bold heading: “Doors of learning opened for Oakford and Sacred Heart”.

Throughout last year, the department had been embroiled in court battles with Maritz and two other parties over the land issue.

Two days before the school was due to open this month the Sheriff of the Court served Sacred Heart with an eviction notice, which included the boarding houses.

Head of Department Dr Nkosinathi Sishi said they feel “very vindicated and we are quite excited” that the pupils will now have access to education without disruptions.

Last year former MEC for Education Senzo Mchunu met with the stakeholders and promised the community that they would take over the land.

Sacred Heart High school governing body chairperson Mfanje Mbango said the parents were very happy about the expropriation and believe their children will now be free to learn.

But Maritz insisted the matter was far from over. “Currently there are three cases still to be heard by the high court and they therefore are sub-judice. Regrettably there is still a lot to be resolved, including access,” he said via e-mail.

“The eviction matter pertaining to the Sacred Heart Secondary School, the Sacred Heart Hostel Trust and Oakford Priory Investments (Pty) Ltd has been taken to court by Oakford Priory Investments due to the Department of Education and the Hostel Trust’s inability to properly maintain the building to a standard that would ensure the safety of the occupants.”

He said the matter was heard by the Durban high court, and judgment delivered and then leave to appeal was rejected. “The respondents thereafter petitioned the Supreme Court of Appeal and the application for leave to appeal was duly dismissed.

“We consequently approached the court and obtained an eviction order in terms of the original order granted.”

On January 14, the Sheriff of the Court went to the schools to execute the eviction order, Maritz said.

“The sheriff was restrained from completing such eviction by the actions of the school community and the community in general.”

The Department of Education thereafter launched an urgent application to the Durban high court, for a stay of the eviction order, based on expropriation of the school properties being imminent.

“As the notice of intention to expropriate was already published in 2012, whereafter expropriation was not facilitated, Oakford Priory Investments opposed the application.

“We were of the opinion that the department had exhausted their judicial remedies to the full extent available.”

He said the Department of Education has decided to proceed with the original expropriation and his lawyers were provided with a notice of expropriation “whereby the parts of the property whereupon the schools are located are expropriated”.

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