After two postponements, the long-awaited Department of Basic Education’s investigation report into the selling of teaching posts was made public last week.

Most of the initial media allegations – those that sparked the investigation – focused on the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), but the eight-member task team made sure to investigate the role of all parties in the appointment process and not only one union. Sadtu in particular had been implicated in the selling of teachers’ jobs, some going for as much as R30 000, in the Eastern Cape‚ KwaZulu-Natal‚ Limpopo‚ Gauteng‚ Mpumalanga and North West. The union has denied the allegations.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga admitted some time ago that her department was aware that unions ruled the roost in some provinces. Motshekga set up the task team, headed by Umalusi head Prof John Volmink, to probe the matter of jobs for sale. The team started its investigation in September 2014 and finalised its report by the end of February 2016.

The findings were mixed – of the 81 cases the task team investigated, 38 (46.9%) provided either reasonable grounds for further investigation, or pointed to outright wrongdoing amounting to criminal conduct. The team discovered that selling of jobs was just one aspect of the goings-on. “There are many forms of irregular appointments. In many ways the cases reported here constitute only an indicative sample of irregularities but they nevertheless point to widespread practices of improper and unfair influence affecting the outcomes of the appointment of educators.”

The report found inconsistencies in the recruitment process across the board. The team pointed out that because appointments are overseen by school governing bodies (SGBs), which are non-professional, the credibility of the process is in doubt. Where the SGB is dysfunctional, this brings into question the validity of the appointments.

Input sought from stakeholders and unions

The report was delayed to give stakeholders more time to develop and refine their responses. In a statement released on 6 May, the Department of Basic Education said Motshekga held a number of meetings with, among others, the National Teachers Union, the National Professional Teachers Association, and Sadtu, as well as the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwys Unie, Professional Educators Union, and school governing body associations. The decision to delay the launch arose from these meetings.

“The processes in this regard are as important as the outcome itself and cannot be compromised,” said the statement.

However, the document was apparently leaked days before its official release, prompting the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to issue its own sharply worded statement on 18 May, protesting the delays and the content of the report. “We are now convinced that the previous deferments of the release of the Ministerial Task Team report, into allegations of selling of educator posts, while leaking its content, was a well calculated move to denigrate Sadtu’s public standing. This is nothing but a classic smear job,” said the statement.

The various teachers unions had much to say about the report, not all of it supportive – mention was made of the task team’s alleged bias, close mindedness and lack of thoroughness.

Download the report for the complete picture, including annexures of coverage in the media and of the unions’ responses.

Findings and recommendations

The report gives details of the 81 cases investigated, including factual findings, and specific recommendations based on those findings. In some cases education officials demanded cash, or SGB members were given offers of cash to ensure the appointment of a certain candidate – often a Sadtu member – and in others, they were approached with offers of cash in exchange for appointments. In one case an official demanded cash before releasing a letter of appointment.

To their credit, those on the receiving end of the bribes did not always accept, but that was often where the action stopped. In some cases where there were grounds for a grievance to be taken further, whistleblowers would not file an affidavit for fear of reprisal.

“Action should be taken quickly to protect whistle-blowers,” the report noted. “It is recommended that the Education Department establish a dedicated unit to receive complaints about the selling of posts and to direct such reports to competent authorities and follow up those reports.”

Other findings included nepotism, the appointment of unsuitable individuals or those not on the shortlist, deliberate underscoring of applicants by SGB members, and manipulation of uneducated SGBs by unions.

The task team was guided by definitions and explanations in the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.

See the bottom of this post for a table detailing the findings and recommendations.

“The report’s conclusion is that the present environment is not conducive to the provision of quality education, and that there are significant problems in the current system of appointments to posts in education and its recommendations are intended to assist the Department of Basic Education and the educational community in general to address these challenges.”

The report commented on the roles played by all stakeholders in the process of selection and recruitment of teachers. The authors also expressed the hope that the report would serve as a tool to clean up the education system, which has been tarnished in terms of appointments.

Task team focus areas

The task team was to focus on:

  1. All facets of the allegations reported in the media in regard to the alleged irregular appointments of educators at schools; and
  2. The role played in these alleged irregular appointments, whether directly or indirectly and whether by act or omission, by-
    1. Any union/or any member of or members and/or any official or officials of any such a union; and /or
    2. Any official or officials of any provincial education department; and/or
    3. Any school governing body and/or any association of school governing bodies and/or any member or members of such an association; and/or
    4. Any organisation, whether an education stakeholder or not; and/or
    5. Any individual or individuals, and to make recommendations to the Minister on how these allegations should be addressed; and
  3. The challenges pertaining to the advertising and the filling of posts and on any possible legislative changes that may be required to improve the existing legislative provisions relating to the advertising and the filling of posts.
  4. To advise the minister on the appointment and placement policies, applicable to educators and other members of staff at school, in existence in the National Department of Basic Education and in provincial education departments, the implementation of such policies and whether such policies require review and/or amendment.
  5. To refer any activities identified during, and flowing from, its investigation
    1. Which indicate that criminal offences have been committed to the South African Police Service (Saps); and
    2. Which indicate that disciplinary action should be instituted against any official or officials of the Department of Basic Education or of any provincial education department to the appropriate authority; and
    3. To provide the minister with the interim report in this regard.
  6. To conclude its investigation within 120 days from the date of its appointment or within such an extended period as the minister may determine at the request of the task team.
  7. To advise and to request the minister, during the course of its investigation, to extend its terms of reference, should circumstances so require.

It is happening right now

Corruption Watch has noted several reports in its data base, alleging exactly this type of illegal behaviour. “High possibility of teaching posts being sold to the highest bidder at XXX Primary in cape town,” said one reporter.

In Durban at another primary school, a reporter alleged, an education department official is selling teaching posts and does not “involve the SGB in any of the matters when it comes to the appointment of teachers at the school.” When the principal’s post became vacant a few years ago, the SGB put forward their preferred candidate, but this choice was allegedly overridden by the official, who appointed someone of his own choosing.

Other reports involve the selling of posts to unqualified people, nepotism, and more. “When principal YYY retired he set up his daughter to become the school’s principal, and his daughter-in-law as the HOD of an unnamed department at the school.” This same principal and three education department officials, alleged the reporter, are also involved in selling employment contracts – however, the reporter had no firm proof of this.

Meanwhile, in Mpumalanga, another education department official was accused by a reporter of selling principals’ posts to persons of questionable reputation and qualification.

Table of findings and recommendations

Findings and recommendations included the following:

Finding Recommendation
1. Sadtu officials or representatives exerted improper influence.

A Senior District official acted improperly in support of the promotion of a friend.

That the illegal action by educators identified by the task team be reported to Saps for further action and that the minister engages her counterpart in the police to dedicate resources to this category of cases to ensure fair and expeditious resolution.
2. Posts are being sold for cash, that the parties operate in networks, and that there is a climate of fear that keeps people from exposing these practices. That disciplinary action be taken against those officials who had the responsibility to check acts of corruption but failed to do so.
3. Union influence often exceeds the regulatory bounds, especially where administrative action is weak. That the Department of Basic Education regain control of administering the education system in all provinces so that clear distinctions are established between the roles and functions of the DBE and the concerns of teacher unions.
4. The administration and education system in all provinces are not well established. That the minister require all provinces to complete and implement their delegations frameworks in line with the Cabinet approved 2013 Public Administrations delegations framework and that the minister adjust the education sector legislation accordingly
5. There are flaws in the process of the recruitment of educators. It should not be possible for a person to be promoted to principal from a post-level 1 position. Insofar as this happens at present, regulations should prohibit it.
6. The governing body should not play any role in the appointment process other than an advisory role. That the powers of school governing bodies to make recommendations for the appointment of post level 2 and above be taken away and that the South African Schools Act and the Employment of Educators Act be amended to reflect this.
7. School principals are key to shaping and strengthening the culture and ethos of our schools. Principals should be selected by means of panels which have the resources to evaluate the competence and suitability of the candidates for their leadership, management as well as their academic, experiential and professional abilities. The panels should include educators of suitable rank and experience. The pre-interviewing testing of candidates should occur and the results should be available to the panel members. The interviewing panels should be convened by the district managers and a departmental representative should be present as a suitably prepared resources person.
8. Teacher unions representatives at selection panels are mere observers. That the observer status of unions be renegotiated with respect to the recruitment process.
9. Senior management interferes with the objectivity when it comes to their recommending candidates for appointment

The deployment of officials to the department from unions weakens the department.

That both school- and office-based educators cease to be office-bearers of political parties and that educators in management posts (including school principals) be prohibited from occupying leadership positions in teacher unions.
10. The formation of occupational unions for office-based educators must be done. That it seems desirable that separate and distinct unions be established for office-based educators.
11. Cadre deployment by unions has weakened the education system. That measures, be put in place to ensure that the practice of cadre deployment into DBE offices and schools ceases entirely.
12. Concern in the supply value chain in the appointment of educators. Those who are appointed to districts and provincial offices should be required to demonstrate their capacity to carry out the job for which they have applied. There should no political appointments, nor cadre deployments. People in these posts must be accountable to their employer and be assessed regularly. Furthermore the role of circuit offices need to be redefined in a way that eases pressure on the district office in terms of managing employment relations closer to institutions/schools.
13. No philosophy or overall vision for the post 1994 Departments of Basic and Higher Education and Training has developed. That the DBE and the DHET, with universities and other stakeholders including the unions lead discussion aimed at developing a broad-based philosophy of education, consistent with our history and Constitution, which will underpin the education and training of educators and shape the practice of education in schools throughout South Africa
14. South African Council of Educators’ (Sace) close links with and allegiance to a single teacher union, Sadtu, has raised questions about its independence That Sace be reconceptualised and freed from union and political domination.
15. Inexplicably, Sace has produced nothing of use for the task team other than an incomplete synopsis of some of the cases investigated. To urge Sace to provide the minister with the report.
16. Sace has conducted investigations in different provinces on the buying and selling of posts That Sace releases to the minister its full report on the buying and selling of posts when completed.