Pap and meat to oust school principal

2014-06-22 15:00

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Two Sadtu leaders allegedly bribed a matric pupil and a local ANC Youth League leader with cheap vodka, food and “whatever you want” to disrupt one of Durban’s best township schools and oust its principal.

City Press is in possession of sworn statements by Mthokozisi Msweli (18), a matric pupil at Vukuzakhe High School and the chairperson of the Umlazi branch of the Congress of SA Students (Cosas), and Nkosinathi Mbokazi (25), former Cosas leader and branch chairperson of the ANC Youth League in Ward 83.

The two approached City Press because they opposed the removal of a “hard-working principal”. They said they were asked to help oust the principal of Vukuzakhe because Sadtu leaders wanted her replaced with another teacher at the school.

Vukuzakhe High School obtained a 94% pass rate last year. The boarding school accommodates pupils from as far as Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. Since principal Domony Fulela arrived in 2009, the matric pass rate has improved from a dismal 44%.

But members of the local Sadtu branch want her, and others in the area, ousted as part of a plan dubbed Operation Phuma Singene (move over, it’s our time).

This is the latest exposé in a City Press investigation into the manipulation of education posts by senior Sadtu members.

They have allegedly worked the system to place senior members?–?and those who can pay?–?in a variety of jobs from ordinary teacher positions to district department heads.

Basic education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said yesterday that the minister, Angie Motshekga, had appointed a six-member team to investigate the scam. Its work will begin as soon as the members’ names are gazetted, which is expected to be this week.

This is the first case that City Press has uncovered of the manipulation of a principal’s position at a high school.

Incited to protest

The young men’s statements reveal how the Sadtu leaders?–?Umlazi branch secretary Ayanda Panda and deputy chairperson Nkosi Mhlongo?–plotted Fulela’s removal.

City Press is also in possession of a recorded telephone conversation between Mbokazi and Mhlongo, which we also overheard, during which Mhlongo urges the two young men to shut the school gates to prevent teachers and pupils entering and to incite pupils to protest.

“You must be discreet about it?...?We should have another meeting where we will strategise on how to go about this whole thing. We need your assistance, we need you guys to apply pressure from your side,” said Mhlongo on the phone.

Several protests have taken place at the school in the past three weeks during which there has been no teaching and critical mid-year exams have been disrupted.

Mhlongo and Panda, who teach at local primary schools, refused to comment. They referred queries to provincial Sadtu secretary Mbuyiseni Mathonsi who said the union had held a meeting with provincial education authorities at which the situation at the school was discussed.

Regarding the claims that Mhlongo and Panda wanted the principal removed, he said the two young men “must go and open up cases”.

“We can’t act on the basis of affidavits. If they are serious about it and are prepared to prove it, they should press charges. We will hear the court’s decision and then take it from there,” he said.

SADTU officials get involved

The drama started three weeks ago when Vukuzakhe High pupils protested, demanding the removal of two teachers they claim used corporal punishment, which caused them to fail, and insulted them.

Mhlongo and Panda then met Msweli, Mbokazi and other Cosas leaders. But instead of resolving matters, they told them the school’s teachers were going on strike to get the principal removed.

“We wanted school and classes to resume, but Sadtu would have none of it,” said Mbokazi in his statement.

“I spoke to Panda [after the meeting] who requested me to convince the learners and Cosas to cooperate with Sadtu and embark on a strike, demanding that the department removes the principal, Ms Fulela.

“She further explained that the teachers refuse to return to school unless and until Fulela is removed.

“She said we will get everything we wanted.” Mbokazi said he understood that she was hinting at paying them money.

Booze and food at circuit office

Panda and Mhlongo then allegedly fetched Mbokazi and Msweli from the school the next morning and took them to the education department’s circuit office where they fed them pap and chicken and plied them with vodka.

“[Mhlongo] emphasised that we should support the teachers in having the principal removed so that teachers could return to school,” said Mbokazi in his statement.

In his statement, Msweli said: “[Panda] advised us to close the school gates and call the press so the disruption at school could be broadcasted. She said to tell the press that we wanted the department of education to remove the principal as per Sadtu’s request so we could have the teachers return to school and us resume our classes.”

The protest went ahead, but no reporters arrived.

The next day, Msweli said, Panda asked him and Mbokazi to address a meeting of local teachers, held during school hours, and told them to say they were behind the move to oust the principal.

“More alcohol and food was bought for us and we partook of it,” he said in his statement. Msweli’s statement said he learnt at the meeting that “they wanted to remove Fulela so that [a head of department, whose name is known to City Press] could become principal”.

Campaign to oust principals

Fulela would not comment, but a teacher close to her said Sadtu’s Umlazi branch began the campaign to remove her in September last year. “They call it Operation Phuma Singene, and other high schools in the area are being targeted,” said the teacher. Msweli said Panda and Mhlongo had asked him to help establish a Cosas branch at another high school “as our help is needed there also”.

Another teacher said he was aware of the campaign to remove the principals of neighbouring schools.

KwaZulu-Natal education department spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said: “We are working flat-out to have the matter resolved, so that the school operates as normal”. He declined to comment further.

But the Sadtu members’ alleged plot could be in trouble.

City Press understands that the head of the provincial education department, Nkosinathi Sishi, visited the school on Tuesday and has appointed a team to investigate why teachers have not been in class in the past three weeks.

Cast of characters

»Mthokozisi Msweli (18): Chairperson of the Umlazi branch of Cosas. He is also a matric pupil at Vukuzakhe High School

»Nkosinathi Mbokazi (25): Chairperson of the ANC Youth League in Ward 83, Umlazi. He is also a former leader of Cosas in eThekwini

»Ayanda Panda: Secretary of Sadtu’s Umlazi branch and the deputy principal at Tholiso Junior Primary

»Nkosi Mhlongo: Deputy chairperson of Sadtu’s Umlazi branch and a teacher at Isidingo Primary School

»?Domony Fulela: Vukuzakhe High School principal

»Mbuyiseni Mathonsi: Sadtu’s KwaZulu-Natal secretary

»Nkosinathi Sishi: KwaZulu-Natal’s provincial education department head

»?Muzi Mahlambi: Provincial education spokesperson

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