In this publication, we seek to share the work done by LRC lawyers, school communities and partner organisations in our quest to realise the right to a basic education. We have been forced to adopt new and creative legal strategies to complement the political struggles of poor school communities and unlock bureaucratic blockages. Class actions, special enforcement proceedings and supervisory orders are just some of the mechanisms that we have employed in order to seek systemic solutions that reach even the most isolated rural schools.
The problems of education delivery in South Africa are enormous and touch on virtually every aspect of the “inputs” necessary to give learners a chance at receiving a basic education. Each sector of the system – from school infrastructure, to teachers, to furniture and textbooks – presents different challenges.
In each of the areas, our priority is to ensure that the litigation results in concrete relief for client schools and learners; whether it is the construction of a safe classroom or the delivery of desks and chairs. But we litigate always with a view of the systemic challenges and seek to leverage individual victories into systemic relief for all schools and learners that face similar challenges. Thus, our cases often run in stages, with the first stage securing immediate relief for client schools and the subsequent stages broadening that relief to all schools in the province and addressing systemic blockages.
Class actions now provide a special mechanism to extend access to justice. In early 2014, the LRC’s Linkside case became the very first class action to be “certified” by the High Court in South Africa – that is, permitted to go to trial. Already, it has secured the payment of close to R30 million in unpaid teachers’ salaries and the appointment of hundreds of teachers to vacant posts, with more schools to seek relief in late 2014, in the second phase of the class action.
Enforcement of court orders has also been a challenge requiring novel legal solutions. Examples of new approaches that have succeeded are the attachment of the Minister of Basic Education’s personal motor vehicle, to secure payment of teacher salaries, and the High Court’s grant of orders “deeming” teachers to have been appointed, where the department fails to process appointments.
The systemic challenges of education are also taking LRC lawyers into the terrain of budget analysis, public administration and finance, collective bargaining processes and intra-governmental systems of co-operative governance. In these complex sectors, it is necessary to continue to develop skills and knowledge, as well as crucial partnerships, with communities, experts and other stakeholders.
The work is ongoing and many challenges remain, but as the accounts and photographs of schools inside the book reveal, the Constitution offers the real prospect of ensuring that learners have an environment conducive to learning: a safe classroom, with a place to sit and write; a teacher who is properly appointed and paid by the government; and prescribed LTSM.
We undertake this work conscious that education, albeit a pivotal right, forms but one component of the development challenges facing South Africa. The steps taken to realise the right to basic education need to complement the delivery of other socio-economic rights, such as water, housing and social assistance. The realisation of these rights serves to strengthen our participatory democracy. As with other developing countries and mixed economies, South Africa pursues its development goals in a global context. It will be crucial to monitor the ful lment of the Sustainable Development Goals in the post-2015 period.