Principal one of four suspects

Sne Masuku andMary Papayya

Sne Masuku andMary Papayya

A school principal, a member of his school's governing body and two suspected hitmen have been arrested by KwaZulu-Natal police in connection with the killing of two teachers last week.

The teachers, Bonisiwe Mthenjane, 34, from Nongoma, and Philile Ntuli 34, from Nseleni on the north coast, went missing last week.

Their bodies were found yesterday buried in shallow graves near their school. Their burnt-out hired car was found abandoned in an open reserve on Friday last week.

Police yesterday said the four suspects were being detained at Empangeni police station on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast.

They said the suspects pointed out the graves in which the teachers' bodies were found.

The deaths of the Hlokohloko Primary School teachers have been linked to a conflict between rival teachers' unions - the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) and the National Teachers' Union (Natu) - in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Mthenjane was chairman of Natu in the area. Among its members are said to be many former Sadtu supporters.

Yesterday about 600 teachers, including senior Natu leaders, gathered with the dead women's families at the scene of the murders.

Natu yesterday hit out at local police for their handling of the investigation into the deaths.

Natu national vice-president Allen Thompson said the police did not move into top gear in their investigation until the union alerted KwaZulu-Natal's MEC for education, Ina Cronje.

"If we had not urged Cronje to push for the investigation, the police would not have gone ahead with it speedily," said Thompson.

"Cronje went there personally and appealed to the police to take the matter seriously. She also took up the issue with the MEC for safety and security, Bheki Cele."

Thompson said there was clear evidence that the killings were linked to the conflict between Sadtu and Natu.

In recent weeks there have been open clashes between members of the two unions at the school and some Natu members were reportedly assaulted.

The dispute was reported to the provincial Education Department and is under investigation.

The school's teachers were the first to link the disappearance of the teachers to the conflict.

Natu has hired private investigators.

Police spokesman Jabulani Mdletshe said: "The suspects were found in possession of documents and other items belonging to the two women, including cellphones and bank cards."

Sadtu yesterday dismissed claims of a conflict with Natu.

The union's provincial spokesman, Thami Ntanda, said: "It's strictly the usual competition between two unions.

"The first time I heard about the [supposed] tensions was when the IFP portfolio committee raised the matter. We investigated it and found it to be untrue."