Councilors approved a significant rate increase for schools when the City of Joburg rates for 2022-2023 were approved in May. It wasn’t until the schools started making noise that we realized the possible consequences.
In one school, fees rose from 40,000 to 425,000 rand per month. In my ward, the principal said his school would close, 24 people would lose their livelihoods and 96 children would leave the institution they love.
The city issued a statement saying the rate increase was the result of a long-standing ruling by the Minister for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) under the Municipal Property Rates Act (MPRA).
All private schools, preschools, early childhood development centers, colleges and universities of further education and vocational education were recognized as for-profit with higher rates. But private educational institutions were not mentioned at the pre-budget meetings with public participation.
So who could know at that stage? The issue was indeed listed in voluminous documents that were later circulated to councilors on March 13, following the last public meeting. However, this was not noted or highlighted by officials or leaders.
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I cannot explain why no one has picked up on this, including members of the Financial Supervisory Committee and rate watchdogs. Some believe that the school administration should have been on the alert since the increase was more than seven years in the making. Further legal action is imminent.
On July 26, AfriForum and the city agreed in the High Court in Johannesburg that the case will be heard in October. Until the matter is resolved, the court order prevents the city from taking credit control measures against schools that do not pay the higher rates, provided they continue to pay at the same level.
Earlier in July, the city announced that private schools registered with the national Department of Education could apply for a 25% discount. The case is still far from being resolved, some advise not to comment, as it is allegedly a sub-court.
I share the opinion of media lawyer Dario Millo, quoted by the Daily Maverick: “Based on [the] Sub judice rule, in my opinion, is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
Constitutional lawyer Pierre de Vos says in the same article: “One of the most annoying phenomena of our political life is how politicians mistakenly invoke the so-called sub judice rule to avoid responsibility.”
We do not avoid responsibility. We have made a mistake by not paying attention to these huge rate hikes for schools and by not trying to prevent them yet.
What to do? Coalition councilors are accused of agreeing to the increase even though they didn’t realize what they were doing. We are all obliged to vote according to the instructions of our party whips.
The policy, essentially, of the ANC-managed. All Cogta ministers were ANC. Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkasazana Dlamini-Zuma and city leaders should heed the advice in the General Guidelines on the Municipal Property Rates Act (page 14): “Municipalities should seriously consider exempting public and independent schools from ratings.”
Harming education for the sake of balancing the municipal budget is short-sighted. Let’s fix this.