Some Durban private schools will have to hike fees drastically if they are forced to pay the property rates being demanded by the eThekwini municipality.

This warning was sounded by the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (Isasa), which is embroiled in a protracted high court battle with the municipality over its refusal to charge “public benefit organisations” rates according to a new ratio that was included in the amended Municipal Property Rates Act.

Isasa is acting on behalf of 18 schools, including Kearsney College, St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls, Maris Stella, Durban Girls College and Clifton College.

It wants the high court in Durban to order the municipality to charge nonprofit schools a property rate capped at 25% of the rate it charges for residential properties. This was the ratio included in the amended rates Act promulgated in March 2010 following a court order by the high court in Pretoria.

The eThekwini municipality has launched a counter-application in court against the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs and the national treasury to review and set aside the decision to promulgate the March 2010 regulations.

Isasa said in its founding application that a perception existed that independent schools were exclusive and wealthy and that “this is not always true” as some schools charged low fees and were under-resourced.

Isasa’s executive director, Lebogang Montjane, stated in the answering affidavit that the municipality’s rates policy was in breach of the 2010 regulations and that its successive rates policies for subsequent years were “unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid”.

“The municipality makes the elementary confusion of regarding as a business independent schools on the simplistic notion that they collect school fees.