Our zero this week is the principal of Mmutle Combined School in Mpumalanga Charles Modjadji who reportedly masterminded a burglary at his school and got two learners to take the rap. Following our own investigation into the matter after we were tipped off by a concerned member of the community, we discovered the two youngsters are now facing charges of theft and possible criminal records, and one has already dropped out of the school due to the humiliation inflicted by his fellow classmates.
The two cousins, Jason and Calvin Chaane, appeared in the Marapyane Magistrates Court on 29 May 2013 for charges of burglary and theft, but did not have legal representation so the case was postponed to 11 September 2013.
Corruption Watch is highly disturbed by this principal’s abuse of power and influence, which has already dramatically affected two young lives and has the potential to ruin their futures. For taking advantage of his position and putting his interests above those of the youngsters under his watch, we make principal Charles Modjadji this week’s zero.
The matter was reported to Corruption Watch (CW) as a tip-off by a concerned community member who shall remain anonymous. CW then followed up and investigated the allegations in the tip-off.
So what exactly happened?
According to Jason Chaane, who was a grade nine learner at Mmutle school at the time, the cousins broke into the school in January 2012 under what they claim to be the principal’s instructions.
Chaane alleges that the principal, Mr Charles Modjadji, coaxed them to break into the school’s strong room where the equipment was kept, and steal the goods.
“He (principal) told me he would place the keys under the door mat so that I can go in and take the computers and bicycles from the school, and he would come fetch them from my home that evening,” said Jason.
Jason agreed that he would help the principal and break into the school at night with Calvin’s help. The deal was that the principal would later go and collect the stolen items from Jason’s house.
The plan was executed, but then Jason’s elder brother found the stash of computers and bicycles, and reported it to the school. The cousins were both arrested on 27 January 2012 for theft and will appear in court on 27 April 2013.
Following their arrest, Modjadji turned on the learners and insisted on dismissing Jason from Mmutle.
The governing body refused, stating the law should take its course and should he be found guilty in court, then they could expel him. But Jason dropped out of school because he could no longer face the humiliation inflicted by other learners.
Why did the principal choose Jason?
This was not the first time members of the Chaane family had taken the rap for the principal. Back in September 2011, according to CW sources at the school, Mr Modjadji brought a knife to school and brandished it in front of learners in a class, showing how deft he was with the weapon and how he too “could be a tsotsi”.
Later that day, a male teacher at the school found the knife in the men’s bathroom and started asking who it belonged to. The learners told him it belonged to the principal as they’d seen Mr Modjadji waving it around earlier.
But when this male teacher confronted Modjadji, the principal denied owning it. Instead, Modjadji told the teacher he had “confiscated” the weapon from a boy at the school.
The principal then approached Jason and the youngster’s other cousin, Keitumetse Chaane, who also went to Mmutle combined school.
A deal was struck: Jason agreed to say the knife was his on condition the principal passed him at the end of the year. Keitumetse was also promised a free pass in exchange for saying he witnessed the “confiscation”. When Modjadji was asked to identify the knife-owner a few days later, he pointed to Jason.
The incident was reported to the provincial department of education to investigate. A report* was sent to the department’s labour relations unit with the allegations that Mr Modjadji was in possession of the knife and he used it to demonstrate his skills to learners in classes.
Several staff members were interviewed during the course of this investigation, including the principal who denied owning it and said he had confiscated it from Jason. Honouring the deal, Jason told the investigators the knife was his.
When CW spoke to Jason, he confirmed he took the rap because Mr Modjadji had promised him a pass at the end of the year. His cousin Keitumetse, who has now moved to the Free State, also told CW that he and Jason both lied to cover up for Mr Modjadji.
“It was Mr Modjadji’s knife, we lied because he promised us that we would pass,” Keitumetse told CW over the phone.
When the end of the year came, principal Modjadji didn’t keep his side of the bargain and both Jason and Keitumetse failed the year.
The report on the knife incident by the provincial department of education, dated September 2011, calls for the school governing body to hold a disciplinary enquiry into the “suspicion that the principal and learners are colluding”. Overall, the report recommends that the principal be “closely monitored”.
‘It wasn’t me’
Mr Modjadji flatly denied that he had promised the boys a pass when CW spoke to him. He said he would never do that because he does not write exams for learners and therefore could not guarantee their results.
He also denied that the knife was his, saying he does not take weapons to school.
“I would never do that,” he said. “Someone is building a case against me and I suspect that it is one of the teachers here at school,” the principal told CW.
Turning to last year’s burglary, Mr Modjadji rejected claims that he instructed the youngsters to break into the school. He said the learners took it upon themselves to commit the crime and he knew nothing about it.
“It was a forced entry through the window, so they must have used an iron saw to break into the strong room,” he said.
Mr Modjadji maintained he was innocent, adding that he cooperated with the police when they were investigating the burglary.
Jason has dropped out of school, but Calvin is still enrolled at neighbouring Seabe high school. They are both facing criminal charges and could end up with a criminal record if found guilty by the court.
The Chaane family fears this has destroyed the cousins’ future because they won’t get jobs with a criminal record. Jason’s older sister, Mmaleshala, told CW that she would love to see him continue with his education because he is a talented artist.
Mr Modjadji is still employed as the school principal and is not facing any disciplinary or criminal charges.
Back in 2009 a similar burglary took place at Mmutle school where printers, computers and laptops were stolen. The case was reported to the provincial department of education and Mr Modjadji, also the principal at the time, was held accountable for being lax about security and was charged for negligence. He was fined R6 000 by the department.
* In this report, Jason Chaane is incorrectly referred to as "Jansen" and it is claimed Keitumetse is not related to Jason. CW has verified that the two are indeed cousins.