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Theft, fraud, extortion – Corruption watchdog red-flags abuse of schools by governing bodies

Theft, fraud, extortion – Corruption watchdog red-flags abuse of schools by governing bodies
Corruption Watch estimates that there are at least 3,417 cases of unlawful conduct in South African primary and secondary schools. (Photo: Kyo azuma / Unsplash)

Corruption Watch has flagged almost 3,500 cases of governing bodies involved in abuses – often in cahoots with the principal.

South African school governing bodies (SGBs) have been plagued by allegations of theft, fraud, extortion and misuse of school finances. This comes as schools gear up to elect new members for these bodies, which serve three-year terms.

Corruption Watch estimates that there are at least 3,417 cases of unlawful conduct in South African primary and secondary schools. Some of these cases involve SGB members in cahoots with school principals.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced on 12 February that schools are scheduled to elect fresh SGBs between 1 and 31 March 2024.

Corruption Watch acting lead coordinator for stakeholder relations and campaigns Melusi Ncala told Daily Maverick that the organisation had received complaints relating to corruption in schools in the past 10 years, which led it to conduct investigations.

“One of our focuses became SGBs in terms of how they function,” Ncala said. This came after whistle-blowers highlighted their involvement. In some cases, an SGB chairperson or treasurer was implicated in corrupt activities with the school principal.

There are schools that have posts given to nonexisting persons that are for teaching or administrative functions.

The principal, Ncala said, would instruct an SGB member to withdraw money, sign cheques or approve whatever the principal wanted them to do.

“There would be no checks and balances or accounting standards applied,” he said.

A report compiled by Ncala in August 2022 showed that the majority of such incidents were recorded in Gauteng, followed by KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, the Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, the Western Cape and the Northern Cape.

They involved misappropriation of resources (45%), maladministration (17%), abuse of authority (15%), employment irregularities (12%) and procurement irregularities (11%).

Breaking the law

Ncala said there were reports of ghost employees in schools.

“You find that there are schools that have posts given to nonexisting persons that are for teaching or administrative functions. These ‘people’ are paid and this begs the question: Who gets the money?”

He said there were schemes managed by school officials in which items were bought using school funds. These items would be returned and the shopkeeper instructed to refund the money into an account unrelated to the school.

Ncala said other cases involved stealing food from the feeding scheme, which is part of the national school nutrition programme, or parents were asked to pay school fees at no-fee schools.

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“And, of course, we have cases of extortion. This is the soliciting of sexual favours by teachers or school authorities saying that learners must perform sexual acts if they want to be graded well or promoted to the next level.”

Extortion, he said, also took place among staff members, especially in cases where someone wanted a promotion.

Good governing bodies help schools

University of Fort Hare law faculty senior researcher Dr Siyabulela Fobosi said well-run SGBs are essential to the health of schools because they guarantee efficient administration. When SGBs operate well, it is felt in the classroom.

“Strong anti-bullying guidelines are upheld, and aggressive steps are taken to address the problems of substance misuse and aggression,” Fobosi said.

This fostered an environment favourable to learning and developed self-assured and motivated individuals.

Well-managed SGBs were committed to openness, responsibility and diversity.

“They put students’ best interests first, creating an atmosphere supporting academic achievement and personal growth.”

The operation of such SGBs, Fobosi said, is supported by fiscal responsibility and moral leadership, which guarantees that resources are distributed for the good of all.

Dysfunctional SGBs are terrible. Pupils are left defenceless against bullying and have limited options for support.

University of Johannesburg education expert Professor Linda Chisholm said such SGBs are made up of parents who are interested and actively engaged in the school.

These parents look for solutions to problems in partnership with the principal and teachers, who help to resolve them.

The impact of such SGBs, she said, include enabling a good atmosphere for teaching and learning. They create a sense of care and well-being on the part of teachers and pupils.

Chisholm said they also create confidence and motivation to ensure teaching and learning thrive.

Jonathan Jansen, a distinguished professor of education at Stellenbosch University, said good SGBs are made up of a diverse, mature group of stakeholders with complementary skills whose singular focus is the best interests of the school rather than their personal interests.

‘Prolongs cycles of deprivation’

Dysfunctional SGBs, on the other hand, are terrible, Fobosi said. Pupils are left defenceless against bullying and have limited options for support.

“Insufficient supervision could lead to the spread of drugs and violence on school grounds, putting students’ and teachers’ safety in jeopardy,” Fobosi said.

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“The effects ripple across the community and do not stop in the classroom. Effectively managed SGBs promote social cohesiveness by establishing alliances with nearby companies and organisations to enhance the educational experience.

“Communities affected by poorly run SGBs experience a decrease in trust and engagement, which exacerbates social problems and prolongs cycles of deprivation.”

Chisholm said tension and conflict plague these SGBs, which leads to a lack of confidence and motivation among parents and teachers alike. This trickles down to pupils. The lack of a sense of pride in belonging to the school results in the degradation of infrastructure and the general social environment.

Jansen added that a dysfunctional SGB destroys the morale of a school and leaves it rudderless in a crisis. DM

The facts

What is a school governing body (SGB)?

A structure that represents the voice of parents and guardians to ensure that they participate in decision-making.

What are the responsibilities of the SGB?

The SGB plans how the school will use its finances, and participates in disciplinary issues involving pupils. It also creates policies on pupil admissions, the language of learning, religious instruction, uniforms and codes of conduct.

How are people elected to an SGB?

The school’s electoral officer issues a notice of the nomination and election meetings with dates, times and places. The notices should be distributed at least 14 days before the meeting. A candidate has to be nominated and seconded on a form, which is submitted to the electoral officer no more than seven days and no fewer than 24 hours before the election meeting. A quorum of 15% of parents on the voters’ roll is needed for the nomination and election meeting to proceed, otherwise the meeting must be rescheduled.

Voting is by ballot papers, which must have a school stamp or some other distinguishing feature to prevent tampering. Votes are counted and elected members informed about the outcome in writing.

Who should parents contact if they suspect corruption or pupil abuse?

The principal, who should report it to the nearest education district office for investigation. If the principal is involved, then the parent or guardian is advised to approach the district office directly.

If an act of sexual or physical abuse is suspected, a case can be opened with the police. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • WHISTLE BLOWER says:

    Parents have tried in vain to report the SGB at Roodepoort Primary School for such allegations as mentioned in this article…they have asked the Principal of the school, Mr. Naicker to Intervene, just to find that he might be complicit too.. the department of education district officials in florida, Roodepoort, are just as useless,they try to cover up complaints that land on their desk regarding the Principal, the school secretary and SGB of Roodepoort Primary School… the community even went as far as Provincial Department of Education to report these matters, one wonders if anything will be done…

  • Lynda Tyrer says:

    This is shocking, its messing with the education of our youngsters, that parents and even staff can be involved makes you realise how little they care for an educated country its all about me, me and me. Anc certainly has taught corrupt individuals well.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Started off with the SOE’s and then the various departments and now down to robbing charitable institutions and education! How much lower can you go? Time for change.

  • Lindy Gaye says:

    Following in the footsteps of the ANC government.

  • T'Plana Hath says:

    Nice one, Corruption Watch. Please do SRCs next …

  • EJ JOUBERT says:

    You mention 3147 cases of corruption etc at schools.
    Then you say “some” of these cases involve SGBs in collusion with school administrators eg principals. How many, exactly? When (or in what period)? How many schools? How many SGBs? How many school principals?
    Why are you bad-mouthing SGBs by implication, putting incomplete facts out there. leading people to assume incorrect facts or misleading perceptions?

  • Iam Fedup says:

    You failed to emphasize in this article that we are discussing GOVERNMENT schools, not private schools. I’ve been on the board of three private schools and at none of them would such behaviours be tolerated. So once again, if the ANC is in charge, it’s going to break, and with the collusion of even “junior” people like parents. The whole system is screwed because there are no consequences.

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