‘Untouchable Sadtu’: Report on alleged abuse at Bhisho school gathers dust

2016-11-24 05:48

A confidential report detailing how minors were abused by rogue teachers at a primary school in the Eastern Cape is gathering dust at the provincial headquarters because authorities have taken no action – seven months after it was finalised.

The report, which also lifts the lid on the role of unions in influencing decision-making in education, was submitted to provincial authorities by the Rapid Response Investigations hired by the Eastern Cape education department in April to probe the challenges at Bhisho Primary.

The 127-page report was compiled by L I van der Vyver of Rapid Response Investigations, and included statements from parents that minors were caned, used by teachers and parents to advance their interests, deprived of participating in extramural activities due to divisions among staff and were emotionally and physically abused.

City Press has learnt that for years, children between the ages of 7 and 13 were victims of a power struggle that has polarised the majority of teaching staff and school principal Velelo Kalipa, who was placed on special leave during the investigation.

An administrator has been appointed in the interim.

Populated by children of state employees who work in and around Bhisho, the school has more than 1300 minors, 37 teachers and a budget of at least R170 000.

No action has been taken by authorities on damning recommendations by investigators that called for:

» The removal of rogue teachers from the school;

» The decrease of the number of pupils to avoid overcrowding;

» The election of a school governing body – elections were disputed last year;

» The appointment of forensic investigators to probe the misuse of school funds; and

» The punishing of officials who failed to act on parents’ grievances.

Van der Vyver said problems at the school have been in existence since 1989, but the wheels came off during governing body elections last year.

The elections were disputed because teachers used minors to canvass for their preferred parents.

Since then there has not been a governing body.

A group of teachers embarked on sit-ins and stayed away from work for about 10 months, only reporting to the district office in King William’s Town.

Teachers only returned to school when the South African Democratic Teacher’s Union (Sadtu) intervened, the report stated.

Van der Vyver said some teachers indicated that they had only joined the union for “protection” against any disciplinary charges to be instituted against them by the department.

Pupils could not get progress reports in the early two terms of this year, the report stated.

Tours for extramural activities were sometimes cancelled at the last minute and at times police were called when teachers fought, in front of pupils, over who would be going with children.

Van der Vyver said in the report: “The unionisation of school governance with a significant Sadtu influence favouring the interests of educators at the expense of the constitutional rights of the learners has harmed the teaching and learning programme to the detriment of the learners.

“There is a strong prevailing view that Sadtu is untouchable and feared by the department of education’s leadership and therefore delinquent educators can feel secure within its ranks because they will be protected from consequences of misconduct or unprofessional behaviour,” the report stated.

Concerned parents formed a task team last year to establish what was happening at the school. But their report was not acted on by officials.

Parents warned investigators that the department may decide not to act on its recommendations.

“The task team went to the MEC [Mandla Makupula] because the district had not responded. They trust that the current investigation’s findings would be responded to by the department in prompt fashion because children are suffering.”

The task team submitted their report to investigators, which contained shocking findings.

“Some educators abuse pupils emotionally and physically for example when pupils were grouped and labelled in a demeaning way by referring to them in the classroom as the graveyard group, the municipality group, the parliament group, et cetera, according to their academic results,” the task team told investigators.

Parents also told investigators that they were “still troubled because of continued emotional abuse and beatings”. One pupil was traumatised and developed eating disorders.

“A group of educators blame Mr Kalipa [the principal] for the lack of discipline in their classrooms because he is an active opponent of corporal punishment, so they now beat pupils selectively for fear that certain parents would report the matter. When Mr Kalipa makes surprise visits to their classrooms to monitor corporal punishment, they become abusive and resentful.

“Scholar patrol supervision and sport coaching were stopped by educators, thereby victimising the pupils while they were in conflict with the principal. There are concerns about the safety of pupils with reference to an incident when one learner pulled a knife. Parents who are vocal about pupils’ rights become unpopular with certain educators. The role of unions is too strong in the department and loyalties become confused,” parents claimed.

A task team member, Naledi Mbude-Shale, who is also a parent and employee of the department, told investigators: “The unionisation of education is a cause of the unrest. Parents are frustrated when educators’ allegiance to unions are paramount as it has a negative effect on their teaching.”

Mbude-Shale told investigators that she was “disappointed as a parent with the department’s inaction in dealing with issues.

Disgruntled educators sit in tripartite alliance and get away being unproductive and the department does not respond to their issues and when they do, they do so in a partisan way.

Educators must teach but there are no consequences for misconduct and illegal strikes.”

Teachers told investigators that Kalipa had taken out protection orders against them, and had gone to court to lay defamation charges against a teacher who made a statement in the media against him, but lost.

Some teachers stated that Kalipa made “death threats” and exerted “fear” on teachers, applied for protection orders and misused school funds.

“He also attempted to get two pupils to claim that she had directed an insulting, derogatory term, referring to a woman’s anatomy, at him,” one teacher claimed to investigators.

Kalipa told investigators that the disgruntled teachers disliked him because he upheld financial policies, addressed late comers, insisted on proper teaching and learning, tried to stop mismanagement of the school nutrition programme and had a strong stand against the execution of corporal punishment.

He told investigators that he “deemed it necessary to apply and obtain interim protection orders against three of his staff members” mainly against insults and harassment.

Contacted for comment this week, Sadtu provincial administrator Chris Mdingi said the allegations contained in the report had no basis.

“Sadtu is a union and looks after its members. Whoever compiled that report lacks the understanding of an objective of the union. We don’t want to co-govern education but we agree with them that we are trying anything in our power to influence decisions that affect our members that is why we are part and parcel of structures to guide against opportunists [moves that seek to have an affect] on our members.”

Mdingi said the union was not undermining the constitutional right of children to education.

“That’s blackmail, which we don’t take kindly to. We are challenging those who compiled the report to come forward in public so we can prove that there is no basis whatsover in those allegations,” he said.

Van der Vyver confirmed submitting the report to the department, but would not comment.

Eastern Cape education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said the department’s legal unit was handling the matter.

“The report was forwarded by the district to the deputy director-general and now legal services is handling the matters raised in the report. Let’s allow the process to unfold,” Mtima said.

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October 20 2019