South Africa’s largest registered and accredited private provider of higher education turned to the Equality Court, sitting at the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, regarding the matter.
It felt that it was being discriminated against as its students had been excluded from partaking in certain premier sporting tournaments, while these opportunities were offered to students from public institutions.
These premier sporting competitions are offered by private entities on a membership basis, which is open only to public institutions of higher learning.
The organisation argued that the exclusion amounted to unfair discrimination and negatively affected the dignity of those students who were excluded.
It was said that they lost out on opportunities and advantages available to their counterparts in public higher education institutions.
Varsity College, the educational brand of the institute, has been operating for about 20 years, and has eight campuses throughout the country. About 14 000 students attend its colleges across the country.
The application was mainly aimed against the independent body University Sport of South Africa, which is an associate of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee and responsible for all higher education sport.
Other respondents in the case included the ministers of higher education and training and sport, as well as Advent Sport Entertainment and Media (Advent Sport) of which former Springbok rugby hero Francois Pienaar is the director.
The private competitions from which the organisation’s students were excluded were “Varsity Sports” and “Varsity Cup” competitions. They were also excluded from the Rugby Sevens competition, as well as from certain elite hockey divisions.
The respondents' defence was largely to the effect that these were “private” sporting competitions, run by non-governmental bodies available only to students from public higher education institutions.
Judge Vivian Tlhapi said while government’s White Paper on sport and recreation recognised the importance of sport and its development in all its spheres, it also recognised that funding from government to achieve these goals was limited. This is why private institutions came on-board.
She said the argument by the Independent Institute of Education that its black students were indirectly discriminated against on the grounds of race, was misplaced.
The judge said in her view an important consideration for the respondents' presence at public institutions was because they developed and transformed sport and made it available to previously disadvantaged students. She said students from private institutions could choose which institution to attend.