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Foreign teacher axed after reporting misconduct

2019-02-20 21:58

“I am a sacrificial lamb because I am a foreigner.”

This is how a non-South African teacher feels he has been treated by government, after reporting allegations of sexual misconduct against his former colleagues at a high school in Mpumalanga in August 2017.

The teacher, who asked not to be identified for fear of his life and that of his family, told City Press how he was also insulted with xenophobic slurs by education authorities before being fired from his post in December 2017.

Although the department was ordered by the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) in August last year to reinstate him, following a finding that his dismissal was unfair, this has not happened.

Paul Phundu, a part-time panellist on the council, said in his ruling – seen by City Press – that, based on the evidence before him, it was “probable that the respondent [department] had a score to settle with the applicant [teacher] because he had reported on sexual relationships between pupils and teachers”.

The teacher’s legal representative, Mogole Mphahlele, said the department had not only failed to reinstate him but had also not paid for his loss of income.

As a result, said Mphahlele, the department’s car, believed to be worth R180 000, had been attached to cover some of the teacher’s financial losses.

The teacher alleged that not only did he lose his job, his life had also come under threat at the school and at his home.

He also alleged that there was often talk of “someone, even a pupil, who would shoot a teacher at the school”, which led to him fearing for his life and, as a result, opening a case at Klipfontein Police Station in Witbank. These threats were allegedly followed by an armed robbery in his home a few months before he was scheduled to appear at the council’s hearing regarding his dismissal case.

The teacher believes these events are connected.

Recounting the robbery incident, he told City Press that in 2017, robbers had entered his home and held him and his family at gunpoint. They stole two laptops, a tablet and five cellphones, some of which contained recorded evidence that he was going to present at the council.

This case was confirmed by Limpopo police spokesperson Colonel Moatshe Ngoepe, who said they were still investigating.

The teacher also reported the sexual allegations and the threats to his life to the SA Human Rights Commission’s office in Nelspruit, as well as to the SA Council for Educators (Sace), in September 2017.

His troubles started after a female teacher at the school blew the whistle about alleged sexual misconduct to him. He said the whistle-blower had expressed concern about sexual relations between a male teacher, known to be a casanova because of his many girlfriends, and a schoolgirl.

The other allegation that was brought to the teacher’s attention was of a female teacher being involved in a sexual relationship with a schoolboy.

The teacher then reported the allegations to the school principal, who contacted the circuit as well as a district director at kwaMhlanga District Office who has since retired. He also had to report the allegations to the education department, at its headquarters in Nelspruit.

After a month, the department said no case was found against the two teachers that could be prosecuted successfully. However, the teacher said there were witnesses with first-hand information, which was presented to the department and Sace during their probes.

Eric Mokonyama, a human rights commission manager in Mpumalanga, confirmed that a complaint was lodged, but said it was referred to the department to investigate.

Jasper Zwane, spokesperson for the education department in Mpumalanga, said its probe had found the allegation to be baseless.

After the ELRC ruling, Zwane said the department had offered the teacher a year-long contract at an alternative school, but to date, he had not responded.

However, Mphahlele countered this, saying that this arrangement was not part of the ELRC ruling. “If the department wants this to happen, it should go back to the ELRC,” he said, or it should negotiate with his client.

Sace spokesperson Themba Ndhlovu said witnesses, especially the affected schoolboy, were hostile and uncooperative during the investigation. As a result, the case was put on hold pending the affected victims’ cooperation.

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October 13 2019