A Picture Of Peace?
Noseweek|September 2020
Beware: Appearances can be deceptive
Susan Puren

HEROLD, A RURAL HAMLET NESTLING in a valley at the top of the historical Montagu pass in the mountains above George is a picture of peace and tranquility.

But, as the saying goes, the devil is in the detail.

A simple brick gate pillar at the entrance of the Franken Primary School has become the focus of a bitter contest between parents, teachers and the Herold community on the one side, and the local church minister and a property developer on the other.

The offending pillar stands half a brick over the boundary of servitude, a non-descript 5-metre wide gravel path that runs uphill from the main road, ironically allowing access to both the school and the hall of the United Reformed Church (URC).

Herold has fewer than twenty inhabited cottages, but 330 learners – most bussed in from nearby farms – attend the Franken school that teaches up to Grade 9. Thereafter the children go to boarding school in George.

The school was established in 1933 on a portion of farmland donated to the church by a local farmer. The original title deed for the 1670-hectare property specified that the land may only be used for school, church and residential purposes. Endorsements were added in 1936 and 1937, each granting certain water rights to the owner.

According to members of the community, the school has given them a sense of dignity and pride because they literally built it themselves, brick by brick over time. Three years ago they added yet another feature, an imposing entrance gate, which they proudly funded themselves. But to their surprise their church pastor, Reverend David Elias, suddenly became obsessed with rulers and yardstick, finding fault with whatever the school was doing to improve its facilities and surroundings.

The reverend has allegedly used the building infringement on the servitude as a bargaining tool in rental negotiations with the Western Cape Education Department, making the deal he has with the department conditional on the removal of the pillar. While Elias denies this in a statement sent to Noseweek by his lawyer, he is at pains to point out that the Franken school did not submit building plans to the George municipality. “The buildings are therefore illegal,” he insists.

Documents show, however, that not that long ago Elias was happily trying to sell the school and gave the first option to the Western Cape provincial education department. The department could not afford to pay the price he was asking and instead offered to continue paying rent, which in fact makes up most of the pastor’s salary.

Approached for comment, the municipal authorities point out that it is not the tenant’s, but the landlord’s duty to submit building plans¬ and that plans can still be submitted for approval after construction.

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