5 September 2007

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					For immediate release                                       Contact: Phillipa Tucker
15 January 2008                                                      011 717-8600/27 direct

The Penny Never Dropped

Osmond Mongake* has finally matriculated after 5 years of struggling at a local high school in Johannesburg. Not
because Osmond is not a clever child but because for 5 years he and his mother Sanele Mongake* battled with the
school around the issue of school fees.

In June 2005 Sanele approached The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at WITS University in
Johannesburg for assistance with her application to the school for a fees exemption. Sanele, for whom the R7000
per annum school fees represents considerably more than 10% of her annual domestic worker’s salary, qualified
for a full exemption and thus should not have had to pay any school fees. Sanele tried several times to submit an
application for fees exemption to an administrator at the school, but the administrator refused to accept it.

In December of the same year CALS was again asked to intervene as the school tried to withhold Osmond’s
progress report and threatened to deny him the opportunity to register for 2006. The school warned Sanele that
they would give Osmond’s place to a new pupil on their waiting list if she did not pay the full year’s school fees.
These actions on the part of the school were illegal as no learner may be turned away from a public school or
prevented from getting their exam results because of non-payment of fees according to the South African Schools
Act (Act 84 of 1996). The school also wrote that she would be handed over to lawyers and blacklisted without

In January 2006 the school again tried to collect school fees from Sanele but was unsuccessful in preventing an
increasingly determined Sanele from applying for an exemption. “It was a struggle just to get the application form
from them,” says Sanele but that year the school granted Sanele a partial exemption, calling it a “partial bursary”
which is a misleading term that many schools use to trick parents into thinking that they still have to pay some
school fees and that the school is granting them a favour. CALS again had to intervene to ensure that Sanele did
not have to pay the fees.

In January 2007, although she was again entitled to a full exemption, when Sanele tried again to apply for an
exemption, the administrator told her that it was “unfair” and “greedy” of her to apply again. CALS vigorously
opposed the school’s actions and promised to continue assisting Sanele as long as the school would not abide by
the law.

Late last year, according to Stacey Shipman* (Sanele’s employer), a member of the School Governing Body rang
the bell at Sanele’s place of work and asked to be allowed in to discuss fees as he was going around collecting
payments. “He was basically debt-collecting,” says Stacey, who also alleges that the administrator had previously
made “derogatory and racist remarks”. The two women warned him that they knew their rights and that he should

CALS deals with these kinds of queries on an ongoing basis and this story is no exception. School staff members
frequently prohibit children from accessing school at the start of every new school year. Often even when the
principal understands the law and is willing to allow non-paying learners into the school, teachers do not allow the
child into their class. This and the withholding of reports are the most common problems that CALS encounters at
this time of year.

In 2007 Osmond completed his final exams, but that is not the end of the 5 year battle between parent and school
for him.
Just last week Osmond went to collect the documentation necessary to access his tertiary education. He was told
that he could not get it until the school fees account was up to date and paid in full. Stacey and Sanele, now well
versed in their rights, felt knowledgeable and confident enough to discuss the issue with the school themselves
before it was necessary for CALS to step in; a sure sign that knowing your rights is an excellent step to

It seems that the staff at the high school has never fully understood the law or agreed to abide by it, so Osmond is
now waiting to see if he will get his Senior Certificate...

It is ILLEGAL to charge any school fees for a learner:

           Who is registered at a “No-fees” schools (these represent 40% of SA’s school)
           Who is an orphan, in an orphanage;
           Who has a foster parent;
           Who has been placed in a youth care centre or a place of safety;
           Who has been placed in the care of a family member (“kinship caregiver”);
           Who is a child who heads an household or is part of a child headed household; or
           Whose parent receives a social grant on behalf of the same learner e.g. a child support grant.

* Names have been changed to protect identities

CALS has been providing legal advice and legal assistance to poor parents and learners on school fees related
matters since 2002. Telephone Education Law Project Researcher Phillipa Tucker at +27 (0)11 717-8600 for

For a copy of the full booklet School Fees: Your Rights visit

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