The South African Schools Act 1996 makes the State liable for any delictual damage or loss caused as a result of any act or omission in connection with any school activity for which the school would otherwise have been liable.

The State is only liable to the extent that the event is not covered by public liability insurance obtained by the school.

There is an exemption for any ‘enterprise or business operated under the authority of the public school for the purposes of supplementing the resources of the school’. And ‘enterprise or business’ refers to a business initiative undertaken by a commercial entity.

The school’s Representative Council for Learners was not a business or enterprise and a fashion show organised by them to raise funds was therefore not a business nor enterprise within the meaning of the exception. The plaintiff should have sued the State and not the school for damages.

The claim arose from an injury suffered by the plaintiff’s son when a loose concrete table top fell and crushed his right hand whilst he was attending a fashion show on the school premises.

Although the fashion show organised by the student body may well have been an ‘enterprising initiative’ in the sense of its boldness, innovation and effort, when the word ‘enterprise’ is used as a noun it refers to a business initiative. The Representative Council for Learners did not become an enterprise because it organised a fashion show to raise funds.

Section 36 of the Schools Act permits a governing body, with the approval of the State, to conduct any business on school property to supplement the school funds. That does not include activities organised by a learner body such as a cake sale, matric dance party or amateur fashion show which would neither need the authority of the governing body nor fall within the range of fundraising activities that section 36 contemplates. The governing body had nothing to do with the fashion show. The State was therefore not exempted from liability and should have been sued. The claim against the school was dismissed even on the assumption that the school was negligent in relation to the event.

The case is Parktown High School for Girls v Hishaam & another.