Teachers applying for jobs must be vetted more strictly

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) recently announced that two women, who had posed as teachers in Mpumalanga since 2006 and were eventually caught in 2017, had been convicted of fraud. 

Nonjabulo Buhle Mabuza was employed as a teacher at Seme Secondary School in Daggakraal after producing a fake degree from the University of Pretoria. Sibongile Rose Khuzwayo worked as a teacher at Hambani Primary School, also in Daggakraal, and had used a matric certificate of a person who had died to gain employment. 

The NPA said the Mpumalanga department of education became suspicious and asked the “teachers” to resubmit their qualifications. Instead the women resigned. 

This led the department to open a case against them. They were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment suspended for five years. 

The NPA applied to have their pension funds of R600 000 each confiscated.

The NPA’s statement read something like a movie script or a novel. But it was not. For 11 years learners at these two schools were taught by bogus teachers, possibly robbing the children of quality education. 

For 11 years these women woke up, went to school and stood in front of children when they knew that they had no business being inside a classroom. It did not matter to them because they had found a way to make a quick buck by defrauding the state. Shameful. 

Daggakraal, an impoverished place in the highveld coalfields that pollute the water catchments and the air, is midway between Amersfoort and Volksrust.

But what about the teachers’ own family members and residents in their area, whose children probably went to these schools? Why did they keep quiet for 11 years when they knew that Khuzwayo and Mabuza had never qualified as teachers? Did they not care for the future of their children, who were being taught by fraudsters? 

More importantly the case of these two women also exposes that the department of education has weak controls to detect such crimes. That it took the department 11 years to become suspicious about Mabuza and Khuzwayo’s qualifications is frightening. 

There have been other such cases of people claiming to be qualified teachers when they are not. Provincial departments of education should, by now, have had mechanisms and systems in place to detect these cases from the moment a person applies for a job as a teacher. 

A department official who testified in the case of Khuzwayo and Mabuza admitted that such cases were prevalent in the department. 

It is all well and good to say they are prevalent, but what interventions have been put in place to ensure that children are not taught by people who are not qualified to do so? 

Also, if cases of bogus teachers continue undetected for 11 years it says a lot about the South African Council of Educators whose responsibility it is to vet and register teachers. It means the council is sleeping on the job and should take equal responsibility for having allowed these fraudsters into classrooms. 

Last year, the Mail & Guardian reported that people who work for the council said there were no systems in place to check whether the qualifications prospective teachers submitted were legitimate. Those who spoke to the M&G back then said they looked at things like the font the qualification was written in to decide its authenticity. 

Who knows? There may be hundreds — if not thousands — of bogus teachers in classrooms. The learners, whose only “crime” is to seek quality education, are taught by fraudsters whose only interest is to draw a salary. The children and their parents cannot even rely on provincial departments and the council of educators to prevent this from happening. 

It’s shameful, really. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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