School in le­gal bid to oust prin­ci­pal

CityPress - - News - PADDY HARPER paddy.harper@city­

The gov­ern­ing body of a pri­mary school in Dur­ban, KwaZulu-Na­tal, has gone to court to have the ap­point­ment of a new prin­ci­pal ear­lier this month set aside. It claims she had been hired by force, ahead of sev­eral bet­ter-qual­i­fied can­di­dates, by the depart­ment of education and teach­ers’ union Sadtu.

The gov­ern­ing body of Gle­nar­dle Ju­nior Pri­mary on Dur­ban’s Bluff claimed union of­fi­cials were “dis­rup­tive” dur­ing the process of se­lect­ing a re­place­ment for the school and forced the ap­point­ment of Priscilla Bedesi as prin­ci­pal.

They have asked the KwaZulu-Na­tal High Court to re­move the new prin­ci­pal from of­fice ahead of a ju­di­cial re­view of her ap­point­ment, which they claim was il­le­gal.

In court pa­pers, gov­ern­ing body chair­per­son Mark Boshoff says Bedesi had not been among the top three can­di­dates short-listed for the post fol­low­ing the in­ter­view process. He said that dur­ing the process, union rep­re­sen­ta­tives and depart­ment of education district di­rec­tor Thu­lani Hlatshwayo had at­tempted to “force” the process in favour of Bedesi, who had been out­per­formed in the in­ter­view by three can­di­dates of vary­ing race groups.

Boshoff claimed the list of can­di­dates had been amended af­ter the process by Hlatshwayo to en­sure that Bedesi se­cured the job. He added that when Bedesi ar­rived to take up the post, she was ac­com­pa­nied by de­part­men­tal of­fi­cials who shouted at teach­ers and slapped his [Boshoff’s] wife, who is also a teacher at the school.

The of­fi­cials, he said, had “stormed” the school af­ter the gov­ern­ing body laid a griev­ance and car­ried out what he de­scribed as an “un­law­ful coup”. They then changed the locks to the prin­ci­pal’s of­fice and ap­pointed Bedesi, who was ac­com­pa­nied by a body­guard, il­le­gally.

The gov­ern­ing body’s le­gal team ar­gued it had been in law­ful con­trol of the school in terms of the Schools Act and the depart­ment’s ac­tions in plac­ing Bedesi against their wishes amounted to an act of “self-help”, which could not be con­doned by the court.

Ad­vo­cate Ste­wart Hoar told the court the depart­ment could not sim­ply “snatch what you claim to be yours” and the court could not legally au­tho­rise the takeover of the school.

He said the school’s act­ing prin­ci­pal, Carol Vorster, should never have handed the keys to Bedesi when she was in­tro­duced as she did not have the le­gal right to do so against the gov­ern­ing body’s wishes.

In its re­sponse, the depart­ment hit back, pre­sent­ing an af­fi­davit from Vorster, who has taught at the school for 33 years, in which a very dif­fer­ent pic­ture of the process was painted.

Vorster said in pa­pers that when Bedesi was in­tro­duced to the staff ear­lier this month, Boshoff had stormed into the school hall, yelling “at the top of his voice” at Hlatshwayo to leave.

Vorster said Boshoff told the of­fi­cials to “get out of here”.

Boshoff, she said, was “us­ing foul lan­guage and was ex­tremely rude” to Hlatshwayo, who re­mained calm de­spite the provo­ca­tion.

Act­ing for the education depart­ment, Ad­vo­cate Ra­jesh Choudree SC de­fended its ac­tions, say­ing Vorster had done the cor­rect thing by hand­ing over the keys to her suc­ces­sor.

He ar­gued that the Bluff was a “hos­tile” en­vi­ron­ment for Bedesi, say­ing she had been ac­com­pa­nied by a body­guard be­cause there had been in­di­ca­tions that the gov­ern­ing body had in­creased se­cu­rity at the school to pre­vent her from start­ing work. Choudree said the locks had been changed “for [the] pro­tec­tion” of Bedesi, who faced hos­til­ity be­cause she was not “the cho­sen one”.

Judge Kate Pil­lay re­served judg­ment, say­ing there was no need for an in­terim or­der while the re­view process was go­ing ahead.

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