Principal post sales get deadly

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Spray-painted graffiti at the school that led principal Nokuthula Magwanyana to lay charges of intimidation. Picture: Public Eye Maritzburg
Spray-painted graffiti at the school that led principal Nokuthula Magwanyana to lay charges of intimidation. Picture: Public Eye Maritzburg

Pietermaritzburg - The murders of two KwaZulu-Natal school principals – allegedly over their jobs – has sparked fears that the upcoming interviews for more than 1 000 promotion posts in the province could lead to further violence and manipulation.

Teacher unions now want the process of appointments more closely monitored and have asked police to set up a special unit to investigate the killing of the principals and other teachers in the province.

Last month, Nokuthula Magwanyana, principal of Villa Maria Primary School in Pietermaritzburg, was hacked to death with pangas in her car in an apparent ambush. The 46-year-old had been receiving death threats – which were also spray-painted on her school wall – after a lengthy dispute about her post.

She told police about threatening phone calls she received from anonymous callers, one of whom told her: “If you don’t resign, you die, bitch.” She also reported being threatened by staff at her school.

While police remain tight-lipped about their investigation – three men arrested with her cellphones will appear in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday – her family and colleagues are adamant she was killed because of her job.

A week after Magwanyana’s murder, the principal of the Imbilane High School in Ulundi, Bongani Zulu, was shot dead in his home. His cellphone and wallet were found in the same room as his body and nothing appeared to have been taken from his house.

Police are yet to arrest any suspects in connection with the murder, and a police source in Ulundi, who asked not to be named, said several motives were being investigated. However, Allen Thompson, deputy president of the National Teachers’ Union (Natu), said the union believed the murder was related to competition over the coveted principal post at Imbilane High because of the size of the school – which has 50 teachers. Principal and deputy principal salaries are based on the size of the school they manage.

Thompson, who heads the union to which Magwanyana belonged, said Natu asked provincial police commissioner Lieutenant General Mmamonnye Ngobeni to establish a specialised task team for teacher killings.

Thompson said posts were being “sold like stolen cars to buyers” who were “willing to do anything” to secure promotions.

“We want the police to prioritise murder cases pertaining to principals, teachers or any person who holds a high position in the department of education. Principals are not safe; they are threatened every day by people who coerce them to say when they are retiring or planning to leave their positions,” he said.

SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) KwaZulu-Natal secretary Nomarashiya Caluza said her union was “very concerned about the killings”.

“Government needs to be aggressive and take steps to stop violence in education. It is much more than just people killing over promotion posts. Security guards and teachers are being killed at our schools. The culture of violence needs to be stopped,” said Caluza.

After the murder of south coast principal and Sadtu office bearer Nkosinathi Zondi last year, City Press exposed a jobs-for-cash scam involving officials belonging to Sadtu and the education department, who colluded with school governing body officials to sell principals’ posts for upwards of R30 000.

Zondi’s alleged killers, including local regional education director Mfundi Sibiya, will stand trial for his murder in the high court in Durban later this year.

At the time, other principals told City Press their positions were “sold” from under their feet and they were intimidated into resigning. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga appointed a task team to investigate claims that education jobs were being sold for cash, money and even livestock in different parts of the country.

The killings are not the first examples of teachers losing their lives over their jobs. In 2007, principal Anton Mathenjwa from the Hlokohloko Primary School in Jozini and two hit men were sentenced to two life terms for killing deputy principal Philile Mthenjane and head of department Phindile Ntuli, both of whom they wanted replaced.

Two union sources – one current Sadtu office bearer and education circuit official, the other a former Sadtu member and still a teacher – told City Press the fight over Magwanyana’s post began in 2012 when she applied for the job after serving as a deputy for a number of years.

“She was the best candidate, but somebody between the circuit and the school governing body had been paid. The governing body ended up split into two factions and eventually withdrew from the process because of intimidation,” said the office bearer.

“A new panel was established to continue with the process last year. All 37 applications disappeared and the post had to be re-advertised. Magwanyana did very well again and was awarded the post.

“She was appointed and the death threats started. Then she was murdered.”

The second source said a series of objections and grievances were laid against Magwanyana to stop her getting the job.

“When this failed, the death threats started. She ignored them and they killed her,” said the teacher.

Thompson said Natu had made submissions to the education department asking them to “remove the market” and introduce a pay-progression system that would allow teachers to earn high salaries without becoming managers.

“We are concerned that during the next phase of appointments there could be bloodshed, or more cheating in the process, as people are desperate and willing to do anything to get the posts they want.”

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