Education department fails to act on public protector instruction

Teacher hits brick wall in fight for payout

Free State teacher Botha Ntshingila
Free State teacher Botha Ntshingila
Image: Supplied

A Free State teacher who approached the public protector and later won his fight against his employer over his pension benefits is still waiting to be paid, more than a year later.

Botha Ntshingila approached the public protector’s office over a two-decade long unfair dismissal dispute with the Free State department of education.

The 56-year old was fired from his job at Tshiya College of Education in Phuthaditjhaba in 1993, after working there for five years. According to Ntshingila, he was fired after being branded a “trouble maker” for organising a protest against the college for withholding certain funds that staff were entitled to.

After successfully challenging the dismissal at the industrial court (now labour court), he went back to work in 1998.

The industrial court had, in its ruling, ordered the department to employ him on terms “no less favourable than those that prevailed at the time of his dismissal”.

The court stated that the “department had to treat the complainant as if he was never dismissed, and that the pension contributions and all his other service benefits had to be paid, as if there were no break in his service”.   

Ntshingila realised that he had not been reinstated as ordered by the industrial court, but was instead reappointed, in an apparent bid to avoid the consequences of the reinstatement.

“When I got back to work in 1998, I had engaged the department about the benefits I was entitled to, such as housing benefits, housing allowance and pensions, but I got nowhere.”

In 2014, ill health forced Ntshingila to take early retirement, and he said he has been living in poverty since.

“I have nothing to show for my work. My house in Harrismith was repossessed, and I had to go back to the family home in QwaQwa. I am 56 years old. What kind of man lives at home at that age?”

In 2019, Ntshingila took his matter to the public protector Busi Mkhwebane who found that the department had acted improperly.

She found that “the allegation that the department prejudiced the complainant was substantiated”.

On April 10 2019, Mkhwebane instructed the head of department to:

  • approach the Government Pensions Administration Agency within 20 business days from the date of this report to recalculate and pay the pension benefits due to the complainant, as from the date of his employment, 8 January 1988 to the date of his retirement 31 July 2014.
  • Ensure that the department pays to the Government Employees Pension Fund the amount required by the GPAA [Government Pensions Administration Agency] to recalculate and pay the pension benefits of the complainant, plus interest, within 30 business days of the GPAA submitting the calculated amounts to the head of department
  • Ensure that all the other service benefits the complainant was entitled to on his reinstatement due to the order issued by the Industrial Court on 23 April 1998 were paid to him.

The public protector's head of communications Oupa Segalwe said: “The public protector’s remedial action is binding unless set aside by a court of law. Organs of the state should implement, or go to court. The protector may write to parliament or legislature to intervene because once she has issued her report, she has done her part.” 

The father of six is now questioning why the public protector’s ruling has not been enforced.

The department of education had not responded to numerous queries at the time of publishing.

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