Boasting lofty tertiary qualifications and vast experience in the nature conservation field, Nomcebo Kunene (43) never imagined that 24 years after finishing high school, she would find herself sitting in a classroom again to obtain a Grade 12 certificate.
Kunene repeated Grade 12 after enrolling in an adult basic education and training programme last year because her employer, the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), overlooked her for promotion to a senior management position, citing that her O Level certificate from the Kingdom of Eswatini, which is equivalent to South Africa’s Grade 12, was not recognised.
She works as a manager for biodiversity stewardship and expansion at the MTPA, and has been employed at this parastatal under the Mpumalanga department of economic development for 11 years, following a short stint in the Limpopo department of economic development and tourism as a deputy director for protected area development.
Kunene passed her O Levels in Eswatini in 1996 after her parents sent her to a high school across the border to avoid disruption of her studies due to the unstable political climate in South Africa at the time.
She returned to pursue her tertiary education in South Africa, where she obtained a national diploma in nature conservation, a BTech in nature conservation from the Mangosuthu University of Technology in KwaZulu-Natal and a master’s degree in environmental management from the University of the Free State.
She has 15 years’ working experience in this field.
However, all these qualifications and experience meant nothing to her superiors at the MTPA, who demanded a matric certificate.
Kunene is presently studying towards a second master’s degree in management, financed by the same MTPA that does not recognise her O Level certificate, but has nevertheless appointed her to act in senior management positions.
She has been angling for a promotion at the agency for the past six years.
“If I’m good enough to act in senior positions, why aren’t I good enough to be promoted?” she asked this week.
City Press has seen her adult basic education and training certificate, which she obtained with flying colours.
“I’ve shared these results with the MTPA and a manager had the nerve to tell me they’re still not recognised. I think I’m being abused and that I’m a victim of chauvinism because I’m in a male-dominated field,” said Kunene.
Kunene is presently acting as a cluster manager. She applied and attended interviews for the position in August 2019, but no one has been hired to date.
According to a copy of a grievance report that City Press has seen, the MTPA has not communicated the outcome of Kunene’s interviews to her.
“What worries Kunene was that the employer, instead of communicating the outcome of the interviews held, [only wrote letters] to her requesting a matric certificate,” reads the grievance report by grievance hearing chairperson Msongelwa Matume, dated April 7.
Matume found that the MTPA had failed to attend to the issue of the Grade 12 certificate rationally, since Kunene held qualifications higher than matric when she was appointed.
“There’s no recognised institution of higher learning that will accept a student for post-matric study unless they’ve passed matric,” he said.
Matume also found that Kunene was treated unfairly, as a colleague employed at the same level as her was earning more. He also found that Kunene’s acting allowance in the cluster manager position was reduced.
He recommended that the MTPA do job evaluation and grading to avoid grievances and that, after this process, Kunene be placed in the position she was acting in.
MTPA spokesperson Kholofelo Nkambule would not comment on why Kunene’s O Level certificate was not recognised or whether management’s failure to promote her was related to the lack of a South African Grade 12 certificate.
She said that the MTPA did not have a promotion policy, but had a recruitment policy that afforded every employee an opportunity to apply for any advertised position.
“The recruitment policy of the MTPA doesn’t discriminate against anyone. There are processes that are followed from the moment the advertisement’s placed until the final successful candidate is appointed," she said.
"Our policy doesn’t dictate automatic promotion, but promotes a fair and equal appointment process."
Nkambule said that no MTPA employee was ever denied a promotion.
“We recognise the importance of ensuring that women, youth and people living with disabilities are afforded an opportunity to advance their careers in all the sectors which the MTPA is mandated to statutorily promote and manage, namely conservation and tourism in Mpumalanga. As such, there’s no resistance nor discrimination from the MTPA to stop Kunene or any other employee from advancing their careers in any way opportunities come.”
She added that different employees within the MTPA were afforded opportunities to act in senior positions.
“All our administrative processes are based on approved policies. Employees have recourse if they feel a policy isn’t followed in any way, [as well as] if they feel they’re being discriminated against on the basis of gender,” said Nkambule.