16/01/2018 18:12 SAST | Updated 16/01/2018 21:04 SAST

Hoërskool Overvaal: Lesufi Gets Defensive

The Gauteng education MEC dismissed a question from Afrikaner activist Dan Roodt, but answered an English journalist posing the same question.

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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA OCTOBER 17: Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele)

At a press briefing on Tuesday, Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi was not willing to answer certain questions concerning Hoërskool Overvaal.

Afrikaner activist Dan Roodt of the Pro Afrikaans Action Group (PRAAG) asked the MEC whether there were plans to "abolish" Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at schools, and whether there will be an investigation into allegations made by Judge Prinsloo that department officials intimidated the principals of two high schools in the area into changing their affidavits.

Lesufi responded: "Just go back to the people who sent you here and indicate to them that I refuse to answer your question."

Judge William Prinsloo delivered a scathing judgement in favour of the Afrikaans-medium school on Monday. He upheld an urgent application by the school governing body (SGB) to overturn the decision by the Gauteng department of education (GDE) to force the school to admit 55 learners.

While the department deemed the application by the Vereeniging school's SGB a way to exclude pupils who do not speak Afrikaans, the school maintains there is not enough space to accommodate the additional learners.

The principals of Pheonix High School and General Smuts High School submitted two conflicting sets of affidavits –– the first set explaining to the court that their schools had space for additional learners, and a second set stating that the schools were full to capacity.

These are the English-medium schools that Hoërskool Overvaal said had space to accommodate learners.

Lesufi then answered the question, after it was asked again by eNCA's Erin Bates. "I said to the HOD that both the district director and the two principals... there must be a process that the department must attend to [sic]. So the HOD will deal with that administratively."

"If somebody was wrong, I can assure you we will act and act decisively on those issues."

"I am not scared. This revolution was not won by those who feared for their own lives."– Panyaza Lesufi

Roodt then asked why the MEC would not answer his question, but allowed eNCA to ask the very same question. He asked whether it was because he is Afrikaans, and Bates is English speaking. Roodt then went on to say that his family had been in South Africa for 200 years, claiming they were responsible for naming Johannesburg.

Lesufi said: "Your response exposed why you are here. Thanks"

The MEC alleged that he an his family were under threat, and that he was aware of people asking about his children. "I am quite aware that a certain population in this country; they are doing all sort of things, they are attacking me, they are insulting me on social networks. They are asking the whereabouts of my children and all those things."

He claimed that he was not bothered by these people.

"I am not scared. This revolution was not won by those who feared for their own lives. I am quite convinced that they know themselves that what they are doing – and where I stand, I am more committed then before. I am not for revenge; I am for equality."

Lesufi adamant: Hoërskool Overvaal language policy will change

The MEC said there would be changes at Hoërskool Overvaal next year.

"Come 2019, Hoërskool Overvaal will have an English class, if there is space available," he said.

"Those who are excited, enjoy it while it lasts. Come January 2019, I will take two children [who] don't represent any particular language and I will enroll them into that particular school, because [we] would have changed the policy of that particular school."

Protest action at Hoërskool Overvaal

Lesufi met with the 55 learners and their parents on Tuesday afternoon, to give the options as to which schools have available spaces.

The MEC said the department is aware of possible protest action that might take place at the school on Wednesday, when schools are due to open. He condemned any action that could disrupt classes at the school.

"We are quite aware that there are other formations that want to go to the school tomorrow with the intention of disrupting activities of that school, and that is why I am meeting with the representatives from that community," Lesufi said.

"So I can be in a position to advise them to wait for the law to take its own course; and it is only after that meeting that I will know."

"No one who will hide behind a broomstick using various excuses to try and perpetuate or promote any form of racism. They must know, Gauteng is not a playing ground for racists."– Panyaza Lesufi

He reiterated his belief that the school has used language to exclude some learners.

"It is the view of the department that Overvaal used language to exclude learners in violation of admissions regulation... We have this data, we are running online registration – we know which school is full. That is the reason why we believe if we present this evidence in court, we are quite convinced that another court will arrive at a [different decision]."

The department is appealing the Pretoria High Court's ruling.

"I am not challenging the judge, nor do I undermine the rule of law or the justice system. I really believe that another court [will have] a different position – and as a constitutional state, we need to also express our views," Lesufi said.

He said there was "no single language that is under threat and there is no single language that will be under threat... all languages are equal, and they must be treated [equally]".

"No one will hide behind a broomstick using various excuses to try and perpetuate or promote any form of racism. They must know: Gauteng is not a playing ground for racists."

** An earlier version of this story identified Dan Roodt as a journalist. This is not the case. We regret the error.