THE Human Rights Institute of South Africa is fuming at the contentious decision by the Greater Ba-Phalaborwa municipality to stop the supply of water to 24 schools that have not paid their water bills for the past five years.
The Institute said yesterday that the municipality had violated the right to learn and to a healthy environment to about 24000 pupils.
Institute education and training officer Elvis Fokola said it was regrettable that the municipality stopped the supply of water to the schools, halting preparations for final exams.
Fokola said school officials had also acted within the Constitution by suspending classes when their environment became unbearable for teachers and pupils.
He advised the municipality to act within the Constitution by providing water to the schools.
Meanwhile, the South African School Governing Body in the Mopani region has criticised the municipality's decision.
SGB regional chairperson Hitler Morwatshehla said they had given the municipality and department of education only 24 hours to put their house in order.
Virginia Malatji, whose son is doing Grade 12 at the Sebalamakgolo High School in Namakgale, said: "This is unfair and unconstitutional. Education is supposed to be a right for every child . It is a mistake to use children as scapegoast to settle scores because when elephants fight only the grass suffers."
The crisis comes after principals of the 24 schools in Namakgale and Lulekani near the Kruger National Park closed their schools after the smell from the school toilets became unbearable.
The municipality stopped the supply of water to the schools, claiming that they owed it R4, 8million since 2005.
Municipal spokesperson Elliot Ramachele said yesterday that the municipality had on several occasions tried to make arrangements with the defaulting schools.
He said they even approached the provincial department on numerous occasion about the situation but the department distanced itself, saying schools were liable for the payment as they received budgets.
Departmental spokesperson Ndo Mangala said his department had allocated more than R500million this financial year to promote learning and teaching and that applies to all the schools in the province.
He said some of the money should have been used for the erection of security fences and digging boreholes to address the shortage of water.
Mangala said that they would conduct investigations into allegations that some principals had sent pupils home during school hours since last week Thursday.