Rogue members of teachers’ union Sadtu have “captured” a key provincial education department, which officials in Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s office say is now on the “verge of collapse”.
Investigators appointed by Motshekga to probe the jobs-for-cash racket run by union officials, which City Press exposed last year, have found that Sadtu members have “infiltrated that department and run a complex patronage system” in KwaZulu-Natal.
An investigation commissioned by Motshekga’s office and headed by Professor John Volmink has found that not only is education in KwaZulu-Natal being run by rogue union members, but Sadtu members have been found to have violated the system in the provincial education departments of Gauteng, North West, the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
On Monday, Motshekga met KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni and senior officials in her department at OR Tambo International Airport to discuss the crisis.
A senior department official said the provincial department had “collapsed; there is no leadership”.
What investigators found
Other allegations Volmink’s team of 10 investigators uncovered around the country include:
- Evidence that a number of senior Sadtu members in the Eastern Cape have received cows, sheep and goats as payment for several principals’ positions throughout the province;
- That an applicant for a principal post at a Gauteng school approached his district director and showed him an SMS which proved Sadtu officials tried to extort R25 000 out of him in return for the job; and
- A Sadtu official in Limpopo’s Mopani district committed suicide after failing to secure two principal posts for teachers who had paid him R25 000 each. He killed himself after they demanded their money back.
In KwaZulu-Natal they found:
- Sadtu officials demanding that union members be appointed to 37 chief education specialist posts. Union officials insisted the department reduce the educational requirements for the posts from degrees to teaching diplomas;
- Sadtu officials have earmarked candidates to fill 15 senior managerial positions in the Ugu district in Port Shepstone;
- A Sadtu leader who is a junior teacher in the Ethekwini North region became the principal of a large school with two deputy principals in the Ilembe district after falsifying a letter of appointment;
- A senior Sadtu official in Ethekwini North illegally swapped positions with a principal of a large school in Ilembe. The “gentlemen’s deal” was struck because principals of large schools earn much more than those who run smaller schools; and
- Evidence that a school governing body member of a Pinetown school acted with Sadtu members to extort R30 000 from a teacher who had applied for the job of principal.
KZN on the verge of collapse
On Thursday, officials from the basic education department’s legal department were sent to Durban to meet senior provincial officials. Senior department sources with knowledge of the meeting said the lawyers “read the riot act to their provincial counterparts asking them to rein in Sadtu”.
Another official said: “They were very harsh on them, asking why they had not acted on Sadtu’s anarchy over the past two weeks.”
Over the past two weeks, pupils at 440 schools in the Ilembe region on the north coast and 485 schools in Ugu region on the south coast have received little teaching after regional union leaders ordered teachers to protest at district offices.
The teachers, who play loud music and disrupt work at the offices, aim to get rid of the directors.
The protest is set to intensify this week in the Ilembe region, where an unsigned notice from the office of the secretary of Sadtu’s Ethekwini North region – which was sent to members on Friday – states that all members should conduct sit-ins at district offices on Monday and shut down schools completely on Tuesday.
Three sources in the department told City Press that Ilembe district director Thembinkosi Vilakazi was visited by three Sadtu leaders from the Ethekwini North region in August last year. They demanded that she appoint them as chief education specialists in her three circuit offices in Stanger, Ndwedwe and KwaMaphumulo.
“They asked to talk to her and told her she was a comrade and should co-operate with them. They said they were prepared to support her and defend her from her enemies, but only if she gave them the positions. She told them things didn’t work like that and she couldn’t fix positions. She told them the fixing of positions was illegal and was corruption.”
He said the three told Vilakazi that if she did not agree to the deal, they would make her stay at the district miserable.
Vilakazi refused to comment.
Another senior KwaZulu-Natal official said that, while Sadtu had claimed Ugu district director Mfundo Sibiya was unfit to lead, what was at issue were the 15 senior positions advertised in the district.
“The department has endorsed interviewing panels given by Sadtu. Where have you ever seen that? Sadtu asked him to change certain people in the interviewing panels, but he refused,” said the official.
“One of the people they want, a Sadtu leader, is not even shortlisted.” Sibiya refused to comment.
Sadtu denies claims
Sadtu’s provincial secretary, Dolly Caluza, said the protests at Ilembe and Ugu had nothing to do with positions.
“There are issues our leaders are raising with the department and some of them date back to 2011. We are protesting about norms and standards and the allocation of teachers. Teachers are overworked and there is animosity because teachers are overworked,” she said.
Caluza accused Vilakazi of failing to attend meetings to resolve labour issues. She denied the protests were about positions.
Sadtu’s national secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, said anyone with evidence of corruption should approach Volmink’s team with evidence.
“One district director in KwaZulu-Natal made allegations – we asked him to submit evidence and he still hasn’t. If they don’t, it will appear that they want to run away from their responsibilities, and use Sadtu’s name to do that. People should be exposed if they are corrupt,” said Maluleke.
Directors fight back
Eight of KwaZulu-Natal’s 12 district directors met in Pietermaritzburg last week and agreed to approach Nkonyeni and Premier Senzo Mchunu to protect them from being intimidated by Sadtu members and the union’s grip on the department.
Sources close to the meeting told City Press that if Nkonyeni and Mchunu did not respond, the directors would appeal to Motshekga and President Jacob Zuma.
One director, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Sadtu is running the department. We have resolved to take the fight to Sadtu. We want support from the premier and the MEC. We need support from the department of education; they must use their power to support us.
“Sadtu doesn’t give a f*** about our children’s education. Education is under siege; it is in the hands of syndicates. The ANC has to pronounce on this; we have reached the crossroads.”
Trouble brews over big jobs
Motshekga’s team’s visit comes as trouble brews over 37 chief education specialist posts.
Three senior officials close to the matter told City Press several provincial Sadtu leaders had publicly stated in meetings they had already allocated the positions to some of their members.
A senior official, who did not want to be named, said: “Sadtu wants the positions, saying they met with head of department Nkosinathi Sishi and persuaded him to advertise the positions.
“They said they would decide who was appointed. They have a list across the province.”
Three senior officials told City Press that when the positions were advertised in August last year, the prerequisite for candidates was a university degree.
But because most of Sadtu’s favoured candidates did not have degrees, the advertisement was withdrawn and the requirements were amended to a diploma.
The posts were re-advertised in March. Caluza denied the union had objected to district directors chairing interviewing panels of the 37 chief education specialist positions.
“We have not objected to directors chairing interviewing panels. We don’t decide who chairs panels, we only observe. Our role is to observe.”
KwaZulu-Natal education department spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said the department was concerned about the disruption of classes at Ilembe and Ugu.
“We are engaging the leadership of Sadtu. We have already held three meetings with them. The engagements are so that the right of the child to learn can be protected. We have issued a circular that empowers principals to deal with teachers who are not at school.”
He said the province was confident that things would improve this week.