As the Western Cape’s school term entered its second week on Monday, Dr Nelson Mandela High in Crossroads experienced their fourth day of no teaching as teachers and some pupils continued to protest against their principal’s appointment.
The teachers, joined my most learners, have been protesting inside the school premises since schools opened on Wednesday last week. They do not want the principal, Linda Mnothoza, to continue at the school following a departmental investigation over the alleged misuse of school fees last year.
But protest solidarity at the school is waning.
On Monday there were fights, some involving fisticuffs between both teachers and learners, breaking out as they disagreed over whether classes should continue.
Teachers and parents have accused Mnothoza of misusing school funds and chasing pupils out of school for not paying a R200 school fee despite the fact he is in charge of a non-fee school.
Mnothoza was suspended last year pending the investigating by the Western Cape Department of Education, but returned at the beginning of term last week after the department found him not guilty.
But teachers had not accepted the WCED’s verdict.
“We are not going to teach until the department gives us a proper report on how the principal was not found guilty and we already requested it last year. The department promised to call a meeting so they can explain to parents,” said a teacher who did not want to be named.
During protests last week police had to shoot a lock to break open the school gate after teachers had locked it.
On Monday protests resumed at 8am while Mnothoza was busy addressing assembly. Teachers arrived carrying placards and singing and were joined by Congress of South African Students members and other learners.
During ensuing arguments over whether or not to continue boycotting classes, School Governing Body (SGB) member Sithembele Marwanqa said he was attacked by Mnothoza supporters who were waiting outside school premises.
Meanwhile learner Ayanda Jekeqa said the ward councillor, Elese Depoutch “klapped” him on Friday last week for boycotting class.
The incident was witnessed by other pupils who claimed Depoutch and his body guards tried to intimidate protesting learners and teachers.
Depoutch said the learners are being used by the teachers and he supported Mnothoza’s reappointment.
Teachers and students were also seen attacking each other on Monday and police were called to monitor the situation.
While many learners joined the in the teachers’ protest and supported a class boycott, most Grade 12s were not impressed.
“I wish this was over already, the department must act fast because we’re missing a lot, even if they send us to some other school so we can learn while the teachers are busy protesting” said a Grade 12 learner who identified herself only as Nosipho.
A number of learners interviewed said they were concerned that if they didn’t start classes they would not be ready for trial exams.
“If the teachers do not want to teach they must leave so that the department can find new teachers,” said a learner.
He said while Mnothoza was suspended the teachers arrived late everyday and no one “was asking questions”.
Education MEC Donald Grant said the teachers’ abandonment of their primary duty, which was to teach learners, in favour of disrupting the school, was “selfish” and could not be condoned.
He said the department will be issuing the teachers with letters requiring them to provide reasons why misconduct charges should not be levelled against them.
According to Grant, the teachers’ refusal to work was a violation of their contracts and their actions were unacceptable.
“Last year, some of the educators made accusations against the principal which were investigated by the Department. The officials found that the allegations were without foundation. The principal has been cleared and was never charged. Therefore, he has every right to return to the school,” said Grant. – Nombulelo Damba