Durban - An explosive preliminary report on the alleged selling of jobs for teachers and principals reveals corruption and cronyism all the way from classrooms to senior education department offices.
The report, which is the work of a ministerial task team appointed by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, warns that the government is in the grip of the teachers’ unions – and points a finger at the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in particular.
Motshekga established a task team last year after “persistent and damning allegations” surfaced about Sadtu members allegedly taking cash to appoint teachers and principals at schools throughout the country.
The task team was headed by John Volmink and included a forensic team from a private sector company.
The investigating team visited all provinces and interviewed Education Department officials, national and provincial leaders of teacher unions, individuals and School Governing Body (SGB) organisations. It submitted a preliminary report after probing 75 cases, of which 30 provided grounds for reasonable suspicion or wrongdoing.
Motshekga has now asked police and the NPA to bring the cases to court. “The task team worked through many cases and in the process found that there is evidence of wrongdoing. This situation cannot be allowed to persist and I must say that there will be consequences. The police will be contacted and arrests could follow,” Motshekga said.
In KwaZulu-Natal – where Sadtu is said to run the show – bribes of between R1 000 and R50 000 were offered and demanded in return for jobs as principals and deputy principals. But in these instances, school governing body members and education officials were also implicated.
The report is understood to detail cases such as how at one KZN school, an aspirant principal allegedly offered to pay R30 000 to sway a school governing body member to land the top job.
Forensic investigations continue, but it is understood that the task team found that among the KZN schools investigated there was enough substance to allegations of bribery to warrant the cases being handed to police.
Apparently the report recommends that school governing bodies no longer recommend who be appointed as deputy principals or principals to schools, as the majority of the bodies are dysfunctional.
The inefficiency and weakness of officials at district and circuit offices is lamented, as this has allowed cadre deployment to swell its ranks with staff who are administrators second and union loyalists first.
Cadre deployment has seen people without the required skills and commitment serving in key positions.
The Mercury understands that the preliminary report recommends that teachers in management posts be barred from occupying leadership positions in teachers’ unions, and that it argues that at provincial levels, Sadtu, as the dominant union, used its influence to ensure that its preferred candidates got jobs as principals and as senior officials in departments – and the criteria were not necessarily about competence but about militancy.
The task team was informed by a number of MECs and heads of provincial education departments that Sadtu was in charge in their provinces.
The report therefore recommended that the observer status of unions during the interview process for senior jobs be “redefined”, and that district and provincial officials be required to demonstrate that they could do the jobs which they applied for, and be assessed regularly.
Basic Education Department spokesman Elijah Mhlanga would not be drawn on the details of the report on Thursday.
A final report is likely to be released in February, and to be handed to the Cabinet and Parliament.
The recommendations required thorough consideration, and once the final report was submitted and the input of stakeholders sought, the necessary changes would be effected.
At a media briefing in Pretoria on Thursday, Motshekga made it clear she intended to wrest the South African schooling system from the “stranglehold” that teachers’ unions had over it.
She said the preliminary report had confirmed corruption in the appointment of teachers and school principals, and that the authority of the state and powers of certain stakeholders in the appointment process would need to be reviewed.
“The report indicated that in the majority of provinces some unions run, and to an extent appear to control, government,” Motshekga said. “This practice cannot be allowed to continue … Merit must be the only determining factor when it comes to appointments, particularly in our schools.”
She said a “new regime” would be introduced so that only qualified and competent appointments were made.
“This blatant exploitation and corruption will not be tolerated,” she said.
What unions have to say:
Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said he had not seen the preliminary report, but Sadtu had made submissions to the task team. To say that teachers’ unions and Sadtu in particular dictated to the government was “unfounded”, he said. Sadtu did not condone the “barbaric” selling of posts.
Maluleke said he had in 2006 personally reported a Gauteng principal who solicited bribes from the authorities. However, he was unhappy that Sadtu’s name was being “abused” because of a “few isolated incidents”.
He said inept Education Department officials hid behind the union. To strip school governing bodies of the power to interview and recommend candidates for principalships and deputy principalships would be “disastrous”, Maluleke said.
Communities needed to have a say in who led their schools and, because of this, training in governance and ethics for school governing body members was critical.
Nomusa Cembi, Sadtu national spokesperson, said the union was distancing itself from individuals who may have acted in their personal interest.
She said the union would act against members who were liable once they were identified. “There may be members of Sadtu doing these things, but we never sanctioned them,” Cembi said.
Basil Manuel, president of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa), said there was “a lot rotten” in the appointment of teachers. But he was displeased that Motshekga had lumped all the unions together in the wrongdoing. He wanted to see the full report as soon as possible.
He too said that clipping the wings of governing bodies would be a “disaster” as many were doing “sterling work”.
The president of the National Teachers Union (Natu), Siposethu Ngcobo, said the union had been unhappy with the task team from the onset, because Natu believed it was “toothless”. Whatever it found was sure to be “the tip of the iceberg”.
Ngcobo believed that many potential whistle-blowers had not come forward as there were very real threats against their lives.
National Governing Body Foundation chief executive Tim Gordon said the foundation was asked to give evidence and “it gave evidence of four cases of corruption involving the appointment of principals”. The foundation represents about 700 schools in the country.
“Unionists in provinces and officials are playing, or have played, a heavy role in appointments that have not followed process. This was for financial gain or power. The impact on children can be dangerous,” Gordon said.
The SA Onderwysersunie (SAOU) was not able to comment by the time of publishing.
* Additional reporting by Francesca Villette and Carlo Petersen