Principal fired for ignoring racist teacher goes back to school – with R629 000 in backpay

The SA Human Rights Commission has urged the Free State education department not to allow a principal that it fired for allegedly condoning racism to return to his former school.

Fanie Roeloffze, headmaster of Wilgehof Primary in Bloemfontein, recently successfully appealed against the department’s sanction in the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC), which found his dismissal to be unfair, and ordered the department to reinstate him by or before the end of this month.

The department was also ordered to pay him 17 months back pay totaling R629 000.

He was fired in January 2015 after being charged for, among other things, failing to act appropriately against the display of an old South African flag in a grade six classroom at the school.

Lenard MacKay, a teacher at Roeloffze’s school, was found guilty of racism and hate speech by the SAHRC in 2013 after using the K-word when referring to black people in front of black children in his class.

Besides displaying a full-sized apartheid flag in the front of his classroom, MacKay had a poster on the class wall depicting black people as having monkey-like primitive brains who can only make confusing noises.

He also often used the K-word on children in his class and called them monkeys, hooligans and barbarians.

When interviewed by the SAHRC at the time, Roeloffze said he was not aware of the old flag in Mackay’s class as he seldom inspected classrooms.

The SAHRC recommended at the time that the department conduct a probe into Roeloffze’s competence to lead the school.

Buang Jones, provincial manager of the SAHRC in Bloemfontein, said they were disappointed with the outcome of the appeal.

“It’s a travesty of justice. In light of what had transpired at the school, one would have thought that he would have been transferred to another school. It’s a step backwards for human rights and for transformation at that school because all of the incidents happened under his watch and he never did anything about them.”

Jones said Roeloffze was aware of the existence of the apartheid flag in Mackay’s class.

He said he was concerned about the teaching personnel at the school, particularly the black teachers who testified against him, adding: “I don’t know how the working environment is going to be like when he returns.”

Craig Thiem, the parent of two learners at Wilgehof, who lodged the complaint against MacKay with the SAHRC, said he was outraged that Roeloffze would be returning to his former school.

“Roeloffze getting off scot-free flies in the face of what Nelson Mandela stood for and everything he sacrificed. It’s outrageous.”

“I feel that in light of the recent spate of racist incidents, including the Penny Sparrow saga, this sends a completely wrong message to the country,” he said.

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