Minister Schäfer condemns violent protest action at Imvumelwano Primary School
Statement by Western Cape Minister of Education Debbie Schäfer
I would like to strongly condemn the violent protest action at Imvumelwano Primary School in Kraaifontein today, which has led to concerning disruption at the school.
We have been informed that an estimated group of 28 community members were protesting outside the school yesterday (Monday 16th March) as well as today.
This means that this small group of disgruntled community members are preventing 1 293 learners from receiving an education, a very basic right that these children need to flourish and reach their full potential in life.
In February, I visited Imvumelwano Primary School following disruptions to teaching and learning by the school community after the dismissal of its principal in terms of the Employment of Educators Act.
The principal was charged with five charges of misconduct under sub-sections 18(1)(dd), 18(1)(q) and 18(1)(s) relating to sexual assault and harassment and two charges of misconduct relating to dishonesty under section 18(1) (ee) of the Employment of Educators Act.
He was found guilty of misconduct in terms of Section 18(1) of the Employment of Educators Act, Nr 76 of 1998. In December the educator appealed the findings and sanction of the duly constituted disciplinary panel. After a consideration of the disciplinary record which was presented to me in the appeal, I dismissed the appeal as there was no evidence in that record of the disciplinary hearing which convinced me to interfere with the finding or the sanction imposed by the Presiding officer at the disciplinary hearing.
Following the dismissal of the Principal of Imvumelwano Primary School, the parents of learners at the school and community at large embarked on a protest demanding the reinstatement of the Principal. This protest resulted in the disruption of teaching and learning at the school.
I then visited the school to liaise with representatives from the community and the SGB in order to resolve the matter so that teaching and learning could resume. At the meeting, various allegations were made pertaining to both the Principal, the complainants and the process itself and I made the commitment to appoint an Independent panel of Investigators to investigate the veracity, if any, of these allegations, which were being brought to my attention for the first time, albeit in an inappropriate manner by way of violence. I was then prevented from leaving the school premises and it was only after I received assistance from SAPS that I was able to leave the school.
Last week, my office received the report from the independent investigating officer. The investigation found that the process by the WCED was procedurally and substantively fair and that there was nothing that occurred in the duration of that process which, in their minds would justify an approach to a court for the overturning of the dismissal on that basis.
The report did however recommend that the principal be advised to now refer the matter to the ELRC for arbitration, notwithstanding that the principal had refused to pursue this avenue beforehand. Procedurally, this is his next step that he should pursue to challenge his dismissal.
However, subsequent to receiving the report, my office then received new evidence, in the form of a sworn statement pertaining to the facts of this case and which may, or may not, have had an influence on the charges that were laid, the evidence that was led and hence the findings of the disciplinary panel in this matter.
Therefore, after careful consideration, I have decided that it is in the interests of all the affected parties in this matter, and so as to ensure that the new evidence can be tested and weighed via a credible, transparent process, that I should advise the Principal to again explore the avenue of arbitration made available to him via the ELRC process, which arbitration process will provide him with a legitimate avenue to deal with this new evidence, and notwithstanding that his lack of action in this regard to date on this means he will now need to seek condonation in order to initiate this arbitration.
I have discussed this proposal with my officials in the Department, and there is agreement, based on the new evidence received, not to oppose any application for condonation which the Principal is now advised to launch. This will provide him with an opportunity to place such new evidence before the arbitrator and deal with same as he deems fit. This outcome has been communicated to community representatives at a meeting last night.
I am of the view that this outcome is fair, transparent and in the interests of the learners, complainants and affected parent /teacher community, in that the Principal will have an opportunity to present such evidence in his defence, and similarly those who wish to dispute same will have that chance.
Protest action of the type we have seen over the past few weeks cannot of its own accord ever result in legitimate, legal disciplinary processes being disregarded by me or the Department.
However given that new and potentially vital material information, on oath, was brought to my attention subsequent to the findings of the disciplinary panel and myself in this matter, I have taken such further action as I deem appropriate in that regard.
I now request the community to respect my decision and, if they so choose, lawfully participate in that arbitration process further, once initiated by the Principal.
It is in the interests of all parties now that teaching and learning continue at the school.