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School’s acting principal to be reinstated

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The Northern Cape Department of Education has been instructed to reinstate the acting principal of Vela-Langa Primary School in Upington after it was found that he had been unfairly suspended.

File picture: Matthew Jordaan

THE DEPARTMENT of Education has been instructed to reinstate the acting principal of Vela-Langa Primary School in Upington after it was found that he had been unfairly suspended.

The Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) on November 11 ruled that he should be paid compensation of R20,000 by no later than January 2023.

The deputy principal who was serving as the acting principal was placed on precautionary suspension on September 13, following allegations of sexual harassment.

A colleague who laid charges of sexual harassment and serious misconduct against him was charged with insubordination and misconduct after she allegedly insulted and humiliated a general school assistant on April 11.

According to the award, the acting principal advised that disciplinary action be taken against her for showing disrespect to the general school assistant and himself.

He had arranged a meeting with two members of the school management team in an attempt to find an amicable solution.

The matter could however not be resolved where he indicated that she had walked out of the meeting and had sworn at him. The matter was referred to the circuit manager for intervention.

Following the incident, the colleague in question made allegations of sexual harassment, assault, intimidation, victimisation and general abuse against the acting principal for incidents that allegedly took place between 2019 and 2020.

The acting principal was warned not to enter the premises of the department or speak to any potential witnesses for the duration of his suspension.

The acting principal believed that the grievances against his colleague were serious and was concerned that no action was being taken.

He related to the circuit manager in June that this created the impression that employees could behave as they pleased without facing any consequences.

He dismissed the allegations against him as “malicious blatant lies” where his reputation and name were being ”deliberately tarnished”.

It was indicated that he was prejudiced as shortlisting interviews for the principal vacancy were held shortly after he was suspended, where he had been acting in the position since July 1.

He advised that his colleague be subjected to a disciplinary enquiry where she instead laid counter charges against him, to “avoid accountability for committing serious misconduct”.

He condemned the circuit manager for “going into hibernation” and “remaining silent for months” before placing him on precautionary suspension and failing to update him on the investigation against his colleague.

The ELRC panellist, Moraka Abel Makgaa, noted that 96 days after the allegations were made and 60 days after being placed on precautionary suspension, the acting principal had not been formally charged.

“The Department of Education’s representative closed its case without calling a single witness to refute the allegations or validate the suspension as being above board.”

He added that there was no evidence to suggest that the acting principal’s presence at the school would jeopardise the investigation or endanger the safety or well-being of any person or property.

“The irony of the whole situation is that the acting principal thought that he was acting in defence of the general education assistant, who was comparatively at a vulnerable position, as well as acting in the best interests of the school, its management and the Department of Education. He was unnecessarily subjected to a demeaning and humiliating experience for a period of more than six months.”

Spokesperson for the Department of Education, Geoffrey van der Merwe, indicated that the investigation into the allegations against the deputy principal of Vela-Langa Primary School was “still ongoing”.

“However, he submitted a dispute to the ELRC against his suspension, on which the commissioner ruled in favour of the deputy principal to uplift the suspension and to compensate him.”

He added that the department would further investigate whether there were any “ulterior motives or malicious prosecution”.

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