he national department of basic education is investigating death threats made against a KwaZulu-Natal district director who refused to appoint an underqualified SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) member to a top department job.
Bheki Ntuli, director of the province’s Umlazi district, was allegedly threatened after he and two colleagues refused to recommend a Sadtu principal for one of five chief education specialist positions.
“Do you want to continue living or not? You will die if you don’t cooperate with the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union. Choose to cooperate or you will be killed. Your days are numbered. You will die because you are a fool,” a caller told him.
Ntuli has now reported the threat to investigators Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga appointed to probe Sadtu members’ jobs-for-cash racket, which City Press exposed 18 months ago.
In an SMS Ntuli sent to the investigating team headed by Professor John Volmink, he said he emailed them about a “very serious case of postfixing” involving “our head office chief director Thembelihle Gumede and Sadtu on the ongoing selection processes for [chief education specialist] posts in the district”.
He also claimed to be receiving calls from an unidentified man, who demanded he strike a deal with Gumede to appoint a local principal and Sadtu member to the job.
“My fear is that I may be killed before seeing your commission. Please send your team ... to interview me as soon as possible. Even today I am available.”
City Press approached Gumede for comment about Ntuli’s allegations on Friday, but she declined to speak to us. However, she did say she would cooperate with Volmink’s investigation.
Gumede, a Sadtu member, was appointed by provincial education department head Nkosinathi Sishi to chair the panels that short-listed and interviewed candidates for the 39 chief education specialist positions being filled across the province.
The posts, which carry salaries of about R700 000 a year, are highly sought-after. In May, City Press reported that Sadtu was circulating a list of its members who should be appointed. Sadtu also objected to district directors chairing interview panels in their regions, prompting Sishi to appoint Gumede to chair them instead.
A member of Volmink’s team, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed Ntuli’s SMS.
“The guys from the department of justice working with us are following up on the matter. We need to protect people who blow the whistle and risk their lives in the process,” said the official.
A senior official in Umlazi, who asked not to be identified, said Ntuli’s caller told him that “as a comrade, you should understand that Sadtu members should be deployed”.
When Ntuli told him he would not be involved in post-fixing, the caller responded: “Do you want to continue living or not? You will die if you don’t want to cooperate with Sadtu.”
Ntuli has officially complained about Gumede’s conduct to provincial education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni, Sishi, Volmink’s team and Gumede.
In a letter to Sishi, a copy of which City Press has obtained, Ntuli wrote that Gumede had “expressed her concern” that he and his fellow district directors – Thembelihle Vilakazi from Ilembe and Dr Bheki Mthabela from Pinetown – had “lost a great opportunity of mending relations with Sadtu ... by failing to promote a Sadtu member in the place of ... a Natu [National Teachers’ Union] member”.
Ntuli added that they told Gumede that they scored candidates in accordance with their performance and “without consideration of their union affiliation”.
“We further told the chairperson that what she spoke about was post-fixing. We were clear that we would not want to be associated with post-fixing,” he wrote.
“The chairperson got angry and emotional, and then cited that we were going to be replaced by what she called an independent panel.”
Ntuli, Mthabela and Vilakazi were appointed as interview panellists for the chief education specialist posts at Ilembe, Pinetown and Umlazi.
The three later received letters informing them that they would no longer be interviewing candidates in districts outside their own.
In his letter to Sishi, Ntuli said he would no longer take part in any interview panel because new members “have been appointed ... to carry out a post-fixing exercise”.
A senior department official told City Press that the new panel overlooked two officials who have been acting chief education specialists for more than five years, one of whom has a doctorate in education. Instead, they recommended the principal who had less than 10 years of experience.
“The principal is a senior Sadtu member at the union’s Umlazi branch,” the official said.
Four days before Gumede fell out with the directors, Sadtu provincial secretary Nomarashiya Caluza wrote to the department asking for Ntuli and Vilakazi’s removal from the interviewing panels.
In the letter, Caluza accuses Vilakazi of promising to reserve positions for certain candidates and sneaking in applications after closing dates. She accuses both Vilakazi and Ntuli of swapping applicants in their districts, hosting “secret meetings to destabilise the department” and refusing to short-list principals for the lucrative specialist positions.
Caluza asked the department to investigate and recommended that Motshekga be asked to send a team to the districts to interview the candidates instead.
However, a senior official told City Press that the three directors were not allowed to short-list principals for the positions because they were not qualified enough.
“A chief education specialist is two positions above a principal. How do you expect a principal to do such a job?” the official said.
Sadtu’s deputy provincial secretary, Bheki Shandu, said Vilakazi and Ntuli “were hellbent on tarnishing the integrity” of the interview process.
“We want to ensure that everything is done according to the book to avoid the negative publicity around us. As an organisation fighting corruption, we have all the reason to raise issues. Processes must be clinical so that all applicants are treated fairly,” he said.
However, Natu vice-president Alan Thompson said the department was targeting specific individuals for the positions.
“In Zululand, one candidate was more eligible than others, but he was ignored,” he said.
Thompson said Natu met Nkonyeni to discuss the “sudden” change of panel members in Umlazi, Ilembe, Pinetown, Ugu and other districts.
“We are weighing up our options, which will include going to court to interdict the department from changing panellists,” he said.
Provincial education spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi declined to comment, saying Volmink’s team was investigating all post-fixing cases.
Both Ntuli and Vilakazi declined to comment.