News | South Africa | Education
A Johannesburg high school is still in the dark over how it racked up a R3.7 million electricity bill, despite the High Court in Johannesburg having ordered the City of Joburg to provide a detailed statement more than two months ago.
The sky-high bill has been at the centre of a protracted dispute between Vuleka SSB High School – a low-fee independent school, serving the communities of Alexandra, Soweto and Cosmo City – and the city for four years now, with the former adamant it’s fallen victim to a billing error.
Last year, the school’s power was switched off. It was subsequently switched back on but desperate to avoid a repeat of the situation, Vuleka decided it was time to turn to the court.
And in early November, Judge Ingrid Opperman handed down an order interdicting the city from “implementing any credit control and debt collection measures, including restricting or terminating any municipal services, including the supply of water and electricity”.
This pending the finalisation of the billing dispute, which she ordered the city to resolve within 90 days.
But further to resolving the dispute, the judge also ordered the city to provide the school with “true and proper statements and accounts setting out the detailed compilation and calculation of the debits and credits” within 60 calendar days.
And with those 60 days now having come and gone, school principal Sanele Majola says the documents are still outstanding.
“That there has been no response from the council, far less the detailed information that they were ordered to provide by the high court,” Majola said this week.
“We are in the business of providing education to adults of tomorrow. Part of that is to instill a sense of their civic duties and responsibility. How can we do so effectively when the very organisation that expects citizens to pay their dues ignores a directive from a high court?”
Despite the order currently in place, City Power spokesman Isaac Mangena last month told News24 the school’s power supply had been cut again.
But speaking to The Citizen on Tuesday, Majola said this was in fact not the case.
“The information that was provided was false, the lights were still on,” he said.
Majola said the rumour had regardless started spreading.
“And it caused serious damage within our school community. At the time, matrics were still writing and it created a huge amount of anxiety for them,” he said.
He said the school had tried its best to keep staff and pupils insulated from the dispute.
But it’s been challenging for us, as the management,” he said.
Majola said were the school be forced to pay the massive bill, it could be forced to close its doors.
“I don’t think we would be able to operate beyond that point. As a low-fee, independent school, we keep the fees as low as possible because of the kind of communities we serve,” he said
He said all he wanted was to resolve the matter. “We have a school to run,” he said.
In response to detailed questions from The Citizen, city spokesman Kgamanyane Maphologela said only that his offices would comply with the court order.
“The applicant, with their representatives, will be invited for a debatement meeting so as to comply with the court order,” he said.
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