Cato school heads suspended

2008-01-29 00:00

The Education Department has suspended the school principal and her deputy at George Cato Primary in line with recommendations made by the district, following a long-standing inquiry into allegations of racial discrimination by the school management against the black teachers.

The school’s deputy will be replaced by the school’s head of department, while an outsider will be appointed as the acting head in place of the school principal.

The two were served with letters of suspension last Friday, effective immediately.

Spokeswoman for the department, Christi Naude, could not say how long the suspension would be, but said teaching and learning has resumed and was running parallel to the disciplinary inquiry and other investigations taking place.

"They are suspended until further notice. It will probably be pending until the disciplinary inquiry has been concluded on February 29," she said.

However, the white teachers at the George Cato Primary School have said that the suspensions have not improved the situation at the beleaguered school.

Speaking to The Witness on condition of anonymity yesterday, they said that the atmosphere at the school is still "very tense".

One said that teachers have been told that they are "rubbish" and should "f**k off" by other staff at the school.

The teachers allege that they have been targeted as racist simply because they are white.

In response, Mbuyiseni Mathonsi, the regional chairman of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) for Durban South, said he did not believe this to be true as they have impressed on their members the codes of behaviour expected of them.

"I really don’t believe it. They are back in school and they are happy that the principal and her (deputy) have been suspended. Things have stabilised and are back to normal. But they can always follow the steps as our members have done, if they feel they are discriminated against," said Mathonsi.

Naude reiterated the sentiments of the department’s superintendent-general Dr Cassius Lubisi, that the department has recognised the serious racial tension in the school among teachers, however, she said it takes a long time for that kind of rift to heal and it is often not easy for the protagonists to deal with.

"That is why the department has made a decision to employ the expertise of a diversity management specialist, who will help the staff in particular to breach the racial divide, because we realise that it cannot happen overnight …"

However, she said everyone will individually have to make an effort to apply what they have learnt from the workshops and play their part in bridging the racial divide.

According to Mathonsi, the union was negotiating with the department to get a black acting principal in order to counter-balance the black and white teacher ratio.

"There were also concerns of who should be the acting deputy, but we are busy checking a workable solution, which we hope will be finalised by Friday since there are no serious contradictions between the department’s views and what our members want."

The racial divide at George Cato Primary was recently fuelled by an altercation between a white groundsman who allegedly beat up a black gardener.

The groundsman has since been suspended; however, it brought the long standing racial tension, which has been brewing since last year, to boiling point.

As a result, the department had to intervene and act on the recommendation of a year-long inquiry, which until last week, had not progressed.

The department found that one of their employees received the results of the inquiry, but failed to act on it.

According to the department, action will be taken against this employee.

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