School in legal bid to oust principal
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.