Durban - More than 500 school management positions in KwaZulu-Natal are up for grabs, causing anxiety and tension amid an unresolved “cash for posts” scandal involving the country’s largest teacher union.

Applications for the posts of principal, deputy principal and head of department closed on Monday and the process is expected to be finalised by October 9.

The 517 positions are across the province.

With so many coveted posts on the line, education stakeholders, including unions, fear the process might not be free from “undue influence”.

“Every vacancy list brings with it high drama and tension. We worry about the transparency of the process,” Basil Manuel, president of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa), told the Daily News on Sunday.

He said the issue had been “a concern for a long time”.

Manuel also addressed the issue last week at the union’s provincial congress.

“It’s not easy being the good guy when people are getting away with murder. The focus should be on getting the right person to do the job, and not getting a job for your friend. The school should be the priority,” he said at the time.

He added: “Our function as observers (in the recruitment process) is to make sure you (as teachers) are treated with dignity and to make sure that fairness prevails. But maybe that’s too idealistic.”

Fears of tampering with promotions surfaced in May amid allegations that some members of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) were selling posts to the highest bidder, or influencing the process so their preferred candidate was successful.

In June, Sadtu’s KZN secretary, Mbuyiseni Mathonsi, denied all the allegations.

At the time, the acting director of the national Department of Basic Education, Panyaza Lesufi, said that anyone with evidence should come forward.

National Teachers’ Union (Natu) deputy president, Allen Thompson, said on Sunday that his union was concerned that nothing had been done by the department to investigate.

“The problem has been reported, but nothing has changed. There are no mechanical safeguards in place, and it is simply shocking,” he said.

Thompson said Natu members had complained that many of them in acting positions had been overlooked in favour of those from other unions.

“In some cases, when our members have made follow-up enquiries, they found that their applications had conveniently disappeared, or that their applications had been incomplete.”

One such teacher, with more than 20 years’ experience - who spoke to the Daily News on condition of anonymity - said she had been passed up for promotions twice, despite acting in the management position for several months.

“Yes, it’s frustrating, but I continue to remain professional for the sake of the school and its learners.”

The chairman of the South Durban branch of the KZN Parents’ Association, Vee Gani, said on Sunday that the only way to root out the “unsavoury practices” was to launch an investigation.

“Those implicated must, if enough proof is found, be removed. This kind of behaviour cannot be tolerated,” he said. “It’s like promoting people who have been caught stealing.”

Gani, who also serves on a school governing body in Chatsworth, added: “It’s almost as if the well-being of the children is being overlooked, and that is never acceptable.”

Paul Colditz, chief executive of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA, said: “We appeal for unions and the department to act with responsibility and integrity. Sadtu has a reputation for disrupting the processes and trying every trick in the book to ensure their candidates make the shortlist, even if they are the weakest.”

Contacted by the Daily News on Sunday, Mathonsi dismissed the claims again. “I have never read or heard of anxiety or fear from some associations… but in any case that is their problem, not Sadtu’s, especially if people are possessed by fear of the unknown.”

KZN Department of Education spokesman Muzi Mahlambi called the “cash for posts” claims “mischievous, especially since the department has put together a task team to investigate them”.

He said the team, according to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, would be put into action from September 1.

Mahlambi appealed for those with evidence to come forward and share it with the department.

Daily News