Interns at the KZN Department offices at Truro House in Durban embarked on a strike calling for permanent employment. Picture: Sne Masuku
Durban - For months, the KwaZulu-Natal Education Department wondered why its salary bill was escalating despite a freeze on appointments being in place.

Now it has emerged that two officials at the department’s Truro House offices in Durban had permanently hired a number of people from among the interns and volunteers working in the building.

The revelation comes as protests by interns at Truro House entered their third day on Thursday. They claimed they worked in place of once-permanent employees who had died or left, and demanded the unfreezing of posts.

The department on Thursday said it was investigating the allegations, which would shed light on how its wage bill continued to escalate although permanent post appointments were frozen about 10 years ago.

About 147000 vacant government posts have been frozen, resulting in the department being unable to fill a large number of office-based posts.

The Daily News saw proof of five permanent appointments made at Truro House, allegedly without the posts being advertised and apparently without the knowledge of the provincial department. However, the total number of such appointments is thought to be much higher.

On Thursday, the Educators’ Union of South Africa (Eusa), which is assisting about 100 interns at Truro House, met department officials in Pietermaritzburg to demand answers over allegations of corruption.

Eusa president Scelo Isaac Bhengu said the corruption contributed to the financial crisis in the department.

Bhengu said department officials denied any knowledge of appointments being made as posts were frozen.

“They have promised to get to the bottom of the allegations after we made it clear that we wanted the officials responsible to be suspended and dealt with,” he said.

Education spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said the department would investigate the allegations to establish who made the appointments.

“We cannot allow fraud to continue. We had an ever-increasing wage bill and wondered why, when the department was not employing. Disciplinary action will be taken against those who manipulated the system. Our system will be able to tell us exactly who made those appointments,” he said.

Mahlambi said since posts were frozen, appointments were made on a contract basis, renewable subject to approval by Treasury, MEC Mthandeni Dlungwana, department head Enoch Nzama and the Office of the Premier.

He said the department had been unable to fill even the most senior management posts because of a lack of funds.

It had recently sourced funds to fill 400 vacancies of district directors, chief directors, directors-general, deputy directors-general and subject advisers.

“We had to cut certain programmes to fund these appointments. It was not easy. We had to motivate and justify affordability to National Treasury.”

The interns, who had served the department for about two years and now volunteered their services hoping to be considered when posts were eventually advertised, were dismayed to learn that posts were filled without being given the opportunity to apply.

They claimed that interns and volunteers kept the offices in operation, and that the permanent staff would not cope without them.

Zodwa Langa, representing the interns said, “We were always under the impression that the posts were frozen and that the department had no control over the situation, but we were shocked to discover that appointments were being made behind our backs.”

The department this week disowned the protesting interns, saying their contracts had ended, but they were allowed to continue working as volunteers to gain experience.

Daily News