Leaders of the National Education, Health, and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) in Mpumalanga’s Bohlabela region expect 5 000 of their members to join their march when they take to the streets on Friday in a demonstration against a Mashishing school principal that they accuse of racism and nepotism.
The march will take place at the Estralita Special School in Mashishing, which caters to the needs of children living with disabilities.
Estralita has been closed down for the past two months after workers belonging to the union downed tools in protest against the principal, Hanlie Swanepoel.
“Nehawu members have been subjected to an odious and despicable working environment at Estralita Special School, which was created by the school principal who has deliberately and wittingly disregarded labour laws that govern the workplace.
“Nehawu has engaged management on countless occasions to request their intervention and take appropriate action against the school principal who has converted the state institution into her private entity which is governed by conceptual ordinances,” said Nehawu regional secretary Fortune Ndlovu.
Teaching and learning at the school first came to a grinding halt on April 2 last year when general workers locked the gates and called for Swanepoel’s axing over allegations of racism and nepotism.
Departmental officials advised the principal to take a leave of absence for her own safety to avoid the tensions spiralling out of control.
Swanepoel has been at home for more than a year while teaching and learning continued under tense conditions until two months ago when the boarding school childcare assistants also decided to stop reporting to work over non-payment of their salaries.
According to Nehawu, Swanepoel is closely related to a shop steward who belongs to a “minority” union whose members abuse members of Nehawu.
The union added that their members worked without Personal Protective Equipment while suffering abuse from their white superiors, who were allegedly receiving protection from Swanepoel.
“Some of the revelations presented by the workers before the task team were scary and disturbing. Workers were refused to take family responsibility leave by the principal citing that they are not doctors to take care of their sick immediate family members.
“Workers were intimidated and reminded of how poor they were when they were looking for jobs. The police were called to arrest workers at the institution on work-related matters. Workers were called to report to duty while on sick leave and [were called] ‘kafers’, ‘moerskont’ and ‘poes’. When reporting these to the principal, she said the encoder was joking,” Ndlovu said.
Ndlovu said although the provincial Department of Education had established a task team to investigate the matter, they felt they should present a memorandum on Friday.
“Nehawu has taken a decision to embark on mass action to present a memorandum of demands to various departments, including the Department of Education which, amongst other things, will demand the HOD to charge and ultimately fire the principal of Estralita Special School following the outcome of the investigation of the task team.
“We, therefore, call on all more than 5 000 members in the region to join the march which is planned to take place [on Friday] in Mashishing where amongst other demands, we shall be calling for the removal of the corrupt principal at Estralita,” he said.
The school governing body chairperson at Estralita, Lindi Sepobe, confirmed that there has not been any teaching and learning at the school in the past two months.
“The situation is extremely sad because here we are dealing with children living with disabilities. Some of these children are in wheelchairs while others are on chronic medication.
“It is sad because most of these children come from poor families where they don’t receive proper nutrition and care. At least when they were at the boarding school, they had people who were dedicated to taking care of them,” said Sepobe. “We have previously invited the media here hoping that at least someone up there would be able to see the suffering of these children and do something. We hope that this article will be able to demonstrate how serious the situation is.”
When contacted for comment on the allegations, Swanepoel said her employment contract prevented her from speaking to the media.
Mpumalanga Department of Education spokesperson Jasper Zwane said they were looking forward to receiving the memorandum.
“The department will always act in the best interest of the learners and in an effort to ensure lasting labour peace at this school. As such, there will be no challenge in receiving a memorandum. The department has instituted a team to probe the allegations and counter allegations made by parties within that school and the team is expected to table its report to the Head of Department (HOD).
“Upon receipt of the report, the HOD will direct on the cause of action to be undertaken. The department calls on all parties to appreciate that the constitutional rights of children to education need not at any stage be compromised and that all efforts must be directed at instituting a conducive environment for learning and teaching at that school,” Zwane told African Times.