By Kwazi Dlamini

When we investigate a report, it is of paramount importance for us to give a right of reply to anyone implicated. However, this comes with a lot of waiting and non-responses, especially from government departments, and the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE) is no exception. It is not unheard of for them to fail to respond to our queries, from giving us the run-around to unanswered phone calls and e-mails – as seen in the following two cases implicating their employees in mismanagement of funds at two different schools.

Corruption Watch (CW) received a report alleging corruption and misuse of funds at Mt Zion Junior Secondary School in Bizana. The report described the principal’s alleged questionable conduct and lack of accountability, including:

  • Withdrawing large sums of money from the school’s bank account without the needed authorisation from the school governing body (SGB) – the money was withdrawn for personal use and the principal also procured goods for personal use at the school’s expense. 
  • Withholding the school’s financial records from the SGB – for this conduct the principal was reported to the ECDOE and removed from Mt Zion, only to be was placed at Bizana District Office with full pay.

The South African Schools’ Act 84 of 1996, together with SGB regulations, places the duty of handling the school’s finances on the SGB, while Section 52(a) and (b) of the regulations relating to SGBs further emphasises that the SGB is responsible for the handling of school financial affairs.

Grievances submitted to the Bizana District Office against the principal were ignored. The department failed to adhere to two deadlines given to them, and follow-up e-mails and phone calls were fruitless.

Criminal charges were laid under case number CAS169/92/2014 at Bizana police station, but the South African Police Service (Saps) declined to investigate the matter for reasons not stated – instead they advised that the matter be reported to the provincial education department. It is unclear why Saps refused to investigate a matter of such importance, but what is certain is that lack of action from entrusted bodies like the police service opens doors for more corruption. 

CW is in possession of Mt Zion’s bank statements for the 2014/2015 financial year and these show cheques written for large amounts and drawn in the names of two beneficiaries. These transactions seemed dodgy because the sums involved were large and were withdrawn in a short period of time. In addition, the beneficiaries appear to be the same in most of these transactions.

The ECDOE not only refused to act decisively on the matter when it was reported by the whistle-blower, but on numerous occasions the community of Mt Zion also submitted their grievances against the principal to the District Office – where they were allegedly told to stop interfering with government issues. This led to the community taking the matter to the Office of the Public Protector, which requested that the community members submit a letter from the District Office acknowledging that they had started there. However, the Bizana District Office refused to release the letter, and the matter remains unresolved, thanks to continued obstruction by the provincial education department.

Education dept ignores misuse of school money

A report involving the Eastern Cape’s Luzupho Junior Secondary School implicates the principal of the school on financial irregularities. The report also alleges that the principal allowed a former SGB member to sign cheques while the latter was no longer part of the SGB. The matter was reported to the provincial Department of Education and nothing was done.

During the course of our investigation CW tried several times and through several means to get hold of the ECDOE, with no luck. Departmental spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima could also not be reached on his official cell phone, and one individual who answered the phone at the ECDOE aggressively said he did not know who Mtima is and could not help us, before dropping the call. This was yet another brick wall that we could not climb over.

Court ruling of no concern to education dept

We received a report from a concerned community member about Sizani Primary School in Mpumalanga, alleging contempt of court by the Mpumalanga Department of Education’s (MDoE) district director and circuit manager. The duo allegedly employed a Ms NE Mahlangu as the school’s deputy principal without following proper procedure.

According to the report, the MDoE advertised a post for head of department some years ago but failed to advertise the post for deputy principal. The principal of the school contacted the circuit manager regarding the issue but the circuit office failed to assist her.

The report also alleges that neither the principal nor the school governing body (SGB) were consulted or informed by the MDoE when appointing the deputy principal. 

The principal subsequently received a letter of suspension from the district director for gross insubordination and was later found guilty of various charges:

  • she failed to carry out a lawful order to accept Mahlangu as the deputy principal;
  • by walking out on the circuit manager who was addressing her on the transfer of Mahlangu, she failed to conduct herself in a proper manner;
  • she refused to allocate office space to Mahlangu; and
  • also refused to allocate office work to Mahlangu.

SGB members took the matter further by applying to the North Gauteng High Court to have the appointment reviewed. The matter went to the High Court and the Court ordered the MDoE to review the appointment of Mahlangu and re-advertise the post.

The final disciplinary hearing against the principal found her not guilty, yet the deputy principal still holds her position at Sizani Primary School while the court had recommended a re-advertisement of the post. In 2018 we sent a detailed query to the MDoE, asking for clarification on this matter, but never received a response.

Investigation provides evidence, but nothing is done

CW received a report from a concerned parent about Mabushe High School in Limpopo. The report alleged mismanagement of funds at the school, involving the former acting school principal, the former school principal, and SGB members as well as teachers.

The matter was reported to the Department of Education, Thabina circuit, for investigation. A subsequent report revealed that there were financial irregularities reported by the school’s financial officers, but no action was taken. 

The investigation also found that meetings were held at the school for the sole purpose of exhausting and abusing school funds. The acting and former school principals were asked to provide an explanation in respect of monies collected by the school in December 2014, January 2015 and February 2015. Based on these findings, the report recommended that individuals involved in the school’s administration and governance should attend a training workshop and implicated individuals should pay back the money.

Questions sent to the Limpopo Department of Education (LDOE) on whether the recommendations made by the report were implemented, went unanswered. A circuit manager at Thabina, one SBT Kgomo, responded by e-mail saying he was on sick leave and could not respond to the matter – but he failed to provide details of someone who could assist on the department’s behalf. Kgomo failed to return e-mails sent to him after his sick leave had ended.

Non-compliance is the biggest issue here; it makes government departments a breeding ground for corruption because not complying means no one will be held accountable. As we carry out our mandate to bring corruption into the light, the ECDOE and LDOE have hindered us every step of the way from carrying out that mandate, and also prevented us from finding out what happened in these schools.

The ultimate losers, sadly, are the children.