chorus of blame in wake of shooting

Sne Masuku

Sne Masuku

Teacher unions have joined hands in blaming the KwaZulu-Natal education department's recalcitrance for the hit on a school principal who was shot 14 times.

They said the education department's failure to act in the conflict at Mandlakayise Primary School at Inanda had led to the shooting of school principal Francis Mthembu on Monday.

The National Teachers Union (Natu) put the blame "squarely on the shoulders" of the department because, it said, it had not listened to teachers' complaints.

Natu spokesman Allen Thompson said the department's failure to resolve conflicts in the province's schools had cost the lives of innocent teachers.

"Five incidents of conflict and intimidation were reported by teachers of Mandlakayise since problems erupted at that school in 2003,' Thompson said.

'We condemn the shooting of Mthembu but we predict that more incidents like this will occur if the department continues to ignore the teachers' outcry."

Thompson said the department should have learnt a lesson from what happened at the Hlokohloko Primary School, where the principal was convicted of hiring hitmen to kill two of his teachers.

He said teachers and parents of Shikishela High in Mtubatuba were up in arms against the principal, who has now hired bodyguards.

The SA National Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) also fingered the department for failing to "act appropriately" on death threats aimed at Mthembu.

According to Sadtu, Mthembu - a member of the union - was openly threatened by parents and staff at a meeting convened by the school governing body on Sunday, a day before she was attacked.

Sadtu spokesman Sipho "KK" Nkosi also blamed the department for failing to investigate allegations of intimidation against the principal when the issue was first brought to their attention.

Yesterday the department of education said it could not speculate about the motive behind the "violent and brutal attack" on Mthembu.

"We should allow the police to do their work and conduct the investigation," spokesman Mbali Thusi said.

But the uproar at the school is nothing new.

Teachers said they were bullied and intimidated by Mthembu after they testified against her in a disciplinary hearing that concluded that she was guilty of taking bribes from unemployed teachers.

She was suspended for three months without pay.

Twenty teachers at the school downed tools more than a month ago after the department reinstated Mthembu as principal in April.

The teachers have been on official special leave for the past three weeks pending the finalisation of a departmental probe into the situation at the school.

Police, meanwhile, were investigating a possible link between the conflict at the school and the shooting but said no arrests had been made.