/ 21 April 2005

Displaced and broke

A KwaZulu-Natal educator has not had a school to report to since March 2001 and his salary had been frozen since last November. He blames witchcraft and the incompetence of a district manager for his problems.

Duduzela Yeni started teaching in 1986 and in 1992 was promoted to deputy principal of Mkhaliphi High School in Hlabisa. He successfully applied for displacement in 1997 due to alleged witchcraft at the school. There were rumours in the school community that he was bewitching the school’s principal – who had been sick.

Yeni (44) says he was also unable to work effectively because of an illness that only affected him on the school premises. ‘I had excessive headaches, I felt stressed and was always sent home as a result. That made my job difficult,” he explains.

Displacement is meant to protect educators from life-endangering circumstances. But instead of offering Yeni protection, his status has led him into a bureaucratic maze. After his displacement, Yeni was sent to Ngebeza High and in 1998 was acting principal there.

In January 2000 the department ordered him back to Mkhaliphi following a Department of Education and Culture (DEC) decision that Yeni’s displacement application was not properly processed.

But with help from the Natal African Teachers Union (Natu), Yeni was instead sent to Nhliziyo High school two months later where he worked as acting deputy principal. His troubles continued, with his new colleagues staging a four-day stayaway protesting that his appointment had not been officially announced. The DEC also maintained that Yeni’s post at Nhliziyo was unlawful.

‘The panellists at the investigation laughed at me when I told them the district manager did not give me a letter to start work at Nhliziyo because he said it was not necessary,” he says.

It was recommended that Yeni should be moved back to Mkhaliphi or start at Nkodibe School. ‘Again, I was not given any documentation allowing me to work at Nkodibe,” he says.

Yeni asked his district manager Godfrey Mashaba for a letter of appointment. ‘Mashaba instructed me to wait because he said the problem with the post at Nhliziyo was going to be sorted out. He told me he did not agree with the findings of the investigation – that he should either return to Mkhaliphi or go to Nkodibe,” says Yeni. Then when Yeni went to a pharmacy to buy medicine at the end of November, he was told his medical aid had been cancelled. It was only then that he found out that his salary had been frozen that month.

The decision to freeze Yeni’s salary was based solely on the fact that he has not been reporting to any school, says Lawrence Mabuya, of the DEC’s Empangeni Region. Mabuya says that according to their records Yeni was employed at Nkodibe since June, but has not been to the school. ‘How can anyone get paid for not working?” asks Mabuya. The department has no record of an appeal against the findings of the investigation into Yeni, says Mabuya.

In October Natu marched to the district office to hand over a memorandum demanding the suspension of Mashaba. Among other things, the district manager is accused of ignoring educators concerns and problems and failing to honour meetings with the union to discuss allegations of corruption against him.

The issue of Yeni being paid a salary while remaining at home was also one of the grievances in the union’s memorandum. Other allegations included the mismanagement of Education Conditional Grant funds, harassment of Natu educators, payment of unknown educators including his daughter and unprocedural hiring and firing of educators.

Mashaba denies all allegations against him. He says he only told Yeni not to report to Nkodibe for two days while he was meeting with the principal and the school governing body.

He says he wrote a letter to the principal before their meeting informing them about Yeni’s appointment but Yeni refused to work at Nkodibe.

‘The report I got from the circuit manager was that Yeni refused to go to Nkodibe because he said he was tired of being moved from school to school,” Mashaba says.

He says the department will conduct an investigation into the allegations made against him by Natu. ‘I promise I will make sure you know about the findings,” he says.