Principal unfairly charged

Isaac Arendse, principal and staff, Steenberg High School

It is with a sense of grave disquiet that we are once again witnessing the continued victimisation by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), with its decision to charge Wesley Neumann, principal of Heathfield High School, with misconduct, among others.

The charges are spurious and politically motivated.

We know Mr Neumann to be a highly principled and devoted educator and principal, dedicated to providing the learners under his care with quality education and the teachers he leads with sound and innovative leadership.

He is respected within the school community he serves and by educators at large.

He is a young, dynamic leader who does not shy away from confronting an amoral, callous and dishonourable bureaucracy.

This is the man who the racist and inept hierarchy of the WCED and the Western Cape’s Provincial Ministry of Education is censuring, simply because he stood up to their ‘kragdadige’ and ‘baaskap’ management style. He speaks truth to power and for that, he is being attacked.

The WCED is determined to make an example of Mr Neumann, to ensure that in future anyone who envisages defying their nonsensical policies or protesting against their draconian instructions, will submissively toe the line.

The WCED management has never cared about our children and teachers at our Cape Flats schools, and they never will.

It is unconscionable that we will allow one of our own to be vilified, hauled over the coals and in all likelihood dismissed by the WCED.

We cannot let this happen! We dare not let this happen!

If we sit back and watch this dedicated educator and community leader being unfairly charged and illegally dismissed without supporting him in his hour of need, history will judge us harshly.

The WCED, under the leadership of Brian Schreuder, whose appointment as Head of Education is questionable and currently the subject of an investigation, and the arrogant and incompetent DA ex Member of Parliament Debbie Schafer, has become a fiefdom, with them dispensing their warped and racist views and refusing to sanction anyone criticising their unethical leadership styles.

Earlier during our country’s lockdown when these education officials insisted on reopening schools, despite the many challenges experienced, especially in our poorer schools, Mr Neumann spoke for all of us, correctly cautioning against the premature reopening of schools at the height of the pandemic.

We are now called on to speak for him.

If the WCED can do this to him, the question is, who is next?

Let’s save our education system; let’s save our children; let’s save this loyal educator; let’s protect Wesley Neumann against the bullying tactics of the WCED.

An injury to one another is an injury to all.

* Bronagh Hammond, WCED spokesperson, responds:

The WCED at all times, adhered to the national directions, as gazetted, which required schools to be open.

Parents were given the opportunity to choose whether they wanted to send their children to school or apply for a concession to stay at home. This was communicated widely.

School governing bodies and principals in the employ of the provincial education department do not have the decision-making powers under law to decide when a school must be open and when it must be closed. The decision to close a school can only be taken by the Head of Department, in terms of Section 16 of the SA Schools Act, or by the national minister under the ambit of national disasters akin to the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the pandemic, the WCED worked with health and education experts both nationally and internationally. We were responsible to ensure access to every learner who chose to attend a school, while at the same time, ensuring that all the relevant health and safety protocols were in place.

In an organisation with 40 000 staff members, it is expected that all our staff, including principals, will follow legitimate instructions from their employer. Anything else will lead to chaos and anarchy within the education space.

Mr Neumann had an opportunity to engage with the Head of Department before disciplinary charges were brought against him. In fact, every principal was invited to engage with the Head of Department to express their opinion.

Mr Neumann did not take up this offer.

The action being taken against Mr Neumann is in accordance with the law. The WCED will continue to ensure that the law is fairly and evenly applied in this matter.