Premilla Deonath
Premilla Deonath

Crisis hits top KZN school

By Slindile Maluleka Time of article published Aug 1, 2012

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KwaZulu-Natal - Pupils and teachers at a top-performing KwaZulu-Natal school are boycotting classes in a show of support for their principal, who has been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into alleged mismanagement.

Khulabebuka High principal, Premilla Deonath, has been at home since her suspension from the Mbumbulu school last week.

Deonath is facing allegations of mismanagement of funds, falsely declaring surplus teachers, inciting parents and community members to turn against some teachers, and failing to declare a business.

She has denied the allegations.

Four maths and science teachers, who had been declared surplus to the rural school’s requirements, had complained to education district officials about Deonath.

They have since been placed at other schools after they were allegedly intimidated when word got out to the community that they had accused the principal of wrong-doing.

“An investigation was launched and it was established that they (the four teachers) were not surplus,” a source said. “She (Deonath) also did not want to declare financial statements.

“Her reason was that there was a break-in at the school and the financial statements were stolen.”

The letter of suspension had to be served by a sheriff of the court at Deonath’s home, allegedly because education officials were too scared to go to the school, where governing body members were believed to have camped out in support of the principal.

Last week, an education official was held hostage at the school and was released only after police intervened.

Department spokesman, Muzi Mahlambi, said a team of investigators has been set up to look into the allegations.

“Instigating the community is a crime, even going to the extent of holding education officials hostage is a crime,” he said. “There was also a sit-in organised by parents at the education district office to say no classes would take place until the principal is back at school.”

Mahlambi said the suspension was to investigate and collect evidence that could lead to a disciplinary hearing where Deonath would be given a chance to respond.

Deonath confirmed the suspension, but said the allegations had no substance.

“I have nothing to hide. I am not afraid of any investigation, in fact, I welcome it,” she said in an interview.

“Eventually, the truth will come out. This has something to do with me being the only Indian in the area.”

Deonath said the school’s audited financial statements had been submitted to the department. She denied running any business.

In 2008, Deonath was recognised in the Standard Bank Salutes Women of KZN campaign for raising funds through sponsorships for the building of the school, and for ensuring an environment that is caring and conducive to learning and teaching.

But Khulabebuka High did not have maths and science teachers for almost a year, until three months ago

.

Four teachers had been kicked out of the school by parents last year for absenteeism, and for allegedly making racial remarks directed at Deonath, including taunting her by singing lyricist Mbongeni Ngema’s notorious Amandiya song in her presence. In 2002, the Human Rights Commission ruled that the song’s lyrics were racially offensive.

However, one of the affected teachers claimed that Deonath was using the racism card.

“In 2003 she was away for almost the whole year, allegedly moonlighting. We informed the department as concerned teachers, but received death threats after that until we chose to leave for safety reasons. Parents protested against our return,” the teacher said.

Despite the staff challenges at Khulabebuka High, the school managed a 100 percent matric pass rate last year.

The school’s governing body chairman, Mkhithikelo Buthe-lezi, said parents wanted Deonath to return to the school pending the outcome of the investigation.

“The school has not been functioning since she left and the only way to solve this is bringing her back,” he said.”

Anthony Pierce, KZN chief executive of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, said if Deonath were charged, the union would represent her in a disciplinary hearing. - Daily News

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