Commission for Gender Equality welcomes Supreme Court of Appeal on payment of school fees

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) welcomes the landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) that will see relief provided to thousands of single parents in public schools. This is against of the backdrop of the Western Cape High Court’s judgement that the South African Schools Act hold parents jointly liable for the payment of school fees.

The judgement from the Western Cape High Court was placing the burden on single parents who have separated or divorced from their partners. In cases where these partners did not contribute, it became very difficult for single parents to afford paying the school fees.

The Commission believes the effort of Michelle Saffer is not only commendable in challenging the Western Cape High Court judgement, it is equally a welcoming news to those that are in the same predicament of not affording school fees due to their separated or divorced partners not contributing. Women are in majority in bearing the brunt of having difficulty in paying school due to their socio-economic conditions.

It is therefore critical that this declaratory order by the SCA that confirms that Section 40 (1) of the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996, provides for joint and several liabilities of parents, fee exemption applications can be processed in terms of the Act and the Regulations to enable single parents separated from their partners or divorced to have their applications assessed in relation to their own personal circumstances not on combined income.

The CGE believes this will go a long way to alleviate the plight in particularly of women who are at most at the receiving end of this lack of support from separated or divorced partners. Underpinned by difficulty in accessing maintenance money which could be tedious and overbearing, the Commission believes this judgement will be a welcome relief for single parents if implemented effectively.

The Commission is calling on the Department of Basic Education, Provincial Departments of Education, District Officials and School Principals to ensure that the SCA judgement is implemented. Due respect and consideration should be given to those who ask for exemption.

This judgement will affirm the rights of both male and female single parents in ensuring that they provide for the education of their children without having to seek assistance directly from their separated or divorced partners.

The Commission believes that the lack of implementation of the South African Schools Act not only affects gender equality but women who at best do not know where their ex-partners work, let alone the addresses where they live. If this judgement is effectively implemented it will help restore the dignity of many women who are constantly asked about their partners’ whereabout in situations wherein they cannot afford to pay school fees.

The Commission for Gender Equality Act 39 of 1996 Section (11) 1 gives the Commission powers to monitor and evaluate policies and practices of organs of state at any level, organs of state at any level, statutory bodies or functionaries, public bodies and authorities and private businesses, enterprises and institutions in order to promote gender equality and may make any recommendations that the omission deems necessary.

It is therefore critical that the CGE monitors the effective implementation of the judgement in ensuring that women in particular are less dehumanized by those that refuse to do right by them. The CGE will ensure as mandate by the CGE Act take necessary steps to ensure compliance with the law.

Source: Government of South Africa