WCED – A Lesson to the ill informed ​

Photo: African News Agency (ANA)

As the Rustenburg Girls Junior School coercion and racism allegations continue to unravel, perhaps it’s time to look at this from another angle. Let us unpack the comments made by the MEC for EducationDebbie Schafer where she states that the CCMA judgement was due to a lack of understanding of the HR processes, to wit, not all SGB members are experts in HR.

The MEC further ducks and dives for cover to make it clear that the teacher was an SGB employee and not employed by Western Cape Education  Department (WCED), and therefore had no idea of the processes followed in her hiring or termination. The MEC must not know what her portfolio is when she makes these statements. While that may be true of in terms of a private school, it is patently false here. The MEC is in charge of education which includes the hiring and firing processes implemented by SGBs in ALL government schools.

The underlying issue here is not the resignation of the Ms Mthembu, or the CCMA judgement or the allegations of racism at the school.  While every one of these issues are abominable on their own, it is the collective nature of them all that we need to understand. We need to look at the big picture and not view each incident as isolated and unrelated. When we examine the MEC and the WCED responsibilities to education a clear pattern emerges. A pattern that has very little to do with transforming education and more to do with keeping everything the way it has always been

The MEC is the first to remind us that Education is a Provincial Competency.  When she does so, she makes it clear that SHE can make decisions independent of National Government as long as it complies within legislative boundaries.

But let us focus on the process, within the context of existing legislation that the MEC is quick to mention that she has no knowledge of. In actual fact, the MEC, through the HOD must ensure that the South African Schools Act (1996), the Employment of Educators Act (1998) and the Employment Equity Act (1998) are enforced and upheld.  For the MEC to claim as she has done , that the teacher was employed by the SGB and not WCED and therefore essentially not the MEC’s problem is by definition, false.

Rustenberg Girls Junior School is a state school, which needs to comply with state requirements and legislation, especially with regards to employment.  Schools do not operate in a vacuum, they are supposed to be guided by WCED policies and processes and supposed to be led by WCED officials from Education Circuits to Education Districts to the WCED itself who are all well versed in the policies and processes that are to be followed, as they are the ones who have written them.

WCED set the guidelines for SGB’s to operate, within the legislation of SASA Chapter 3 and further related to the functions of the HOD and the MEC for Education in the Province.  What this means is that nothing can happen at a public school without the knowledge or participation of the WCED, whether tacitly or implicitly. So how can the MEC claim, in good conscience, that she had no knowledge of how the teacher was employed and how she was terminated? In fact, the Principal of the school is the recognised representative of the HOD at the school, particularly when it comes to professional conduct.

When processes are not followed things clearly go wrong.  There seems to be a misunderstanding as to who sets the processes that are to be followed. Schools do not make up their own rules and regulations. They apply the guidelines as set out by the department to the school they are serving.   Then whose processes where not followed?  And why was it not detected earlier that processes were being incorrectly followed as the WCED has oversight in this capacity.  The list of improper processes and maladministration is a long one.

Processes have not been followed for some time, which begs the question about the insistence to bring the WCEA Bill and all the new layers of procedures to be followed.  If normal processes that exist within current legislation cannot be monitored, how can it even begin to be conceivable that new processes are going to be effectively monitored. We have seen the recent events demonstrate a lack of accountability from the MEC and WCED, and the attempts to further deflect the responsibility away from them.

The MEC is responsible for this mess, as is the HOD.  There can be no cop outs here, any further deflections or more lip service. The HOD has the full authority to remove or replace a member of or an entire SGB for failing in its duties as this SGB has done. Will the HOD act at all. I suggest we do not hold our breath.

Muaath Gabier is an Education Activist and Independent Consultant.