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Drewan Baird. Oudtshoorn. 22 October 2012. 09h35. Readers need to be aware of the fact that I am a party intimately involved in the story that follows. Some identities are withheld as action against them may follow.
If South Africa is to avoid what currently appears to be an inevitable outcome – a failed state, education will have to win the day.
No alternative route to eventual, eluding success but education is available. NO OTHER ROUTE; NO OTHER. Period.
On September 5 I wrote the principal to complain about the fact that the ballots of the Student Representative Council election had been compromised and argued that the election should be declared null and void and a new election be held.
The ballot is the most inviolable document in a democracy; trumping even the constitution.
I met with the principal and his deputy and I was assured that the integrity of the teaching staff at Oudtshoorn High was above reproach.
I am myself a product of Oudtshoorn High. My eldest daughter is preparing for a bright professional future on the back of 5 glorious years at the school. My youngest is following suit at the dawn of her matric year. If I did not trust to the integrity of the staff at Oudtshoorn High I would never have exposed my children to them!
Therefore the assurance of integrity never entered into the equation of a rather elementary issue, easily defined; easily corrected.
Should, an here’s a rather vivid thought, Helen Zille and Jacob Zuma attend the ballot counting in an election on the Cape Flats, say, it would be incomprehensible that Zille may suggest to Zuma that, given the hour and the demanding day, they each take a ballot box home to count the votes and return at dawn with the result.
Yet, a teacher, of unimpeachable integrity, did just that when he loaded ballots in his car, in clear view, and returned next morning with a result in the SRC election.
Completely and utterly unacceptable.
I do not question the outcome of the SRC election.
I do not question the integrity of the teacher who took the ballots home.
I do object, in the strongest possible terms, to the violation of a basic democratic right of each and every learner at Oudtshoorn High.
I am under no obligation whatsoever to even attempt to justify my outrage. The fact screams for itself: The ballots were compromised. Period.
The ballots were compromised. The election was compromised. Period.
An alarming string of events followed on my formal complaint.
Firstly, the school did nothing to address the problem and it was even suggested in the local press, that the school regarded the matter closed after my complaint was initially discussed.
This lethargy represented an even bigger problem than the original appal.
A clear violation occurred. The infringement was reported. The matter was discussed… then nothing!?
I proceeded to report the matter to the Eden & Central Karoo Education District Authority where two Oudtshoorn senior managers were eventually made aware of the complaint after an undue delay in George.
The local executives acted immediately and decisively. The matter was investigated, and on 10 October the circuit manager wrote the principal:
“Die bewering is dat die betrokke klasse se stembriewe by ‘n opvoeder se huis getel was en dus van die skoolperseel verwyder was. Hierdie bewering is reeds deur u in ons gesprek op Maandag 8 Oktober 2012 bevestig. U word dus vriendelik versoek om die volle verkiesingproses te herhaal (vanaf Graad 8 tot by Graad 11).”
The principal reacted with expected probity: he called for new nominations the very next morning. He decided that a new election had to be effected.
It is very important, at this juncture, to realise that the circuit management clearly was on top of its game with a keen knowledge and exact understanding of the rules: They did not instruct the principal to hold a new election, they requested (“vriendelik versoek“) that he held a new election. The importance of this wording will be evident shortly.
Soon after the second nomination process was completed, some reports say within the hour, the governing body intervened with the eventual result, on Monday at 10h33, of the Western Cape minister of education enjoining that the “instruction” of the local circuit management be rescinded and that no new election be held.
It is important to note that the principal obviously did not refer to his governing body, because he did not need to do so in his capacity as electoral official. He called for new nominations and the governing body only intervened thereafter.
As I am not known for abandoning matters I once take up I wrote the premier, Helen Zille, on Tuesday:
I filed a complaint on September 5 that the ballots of the SRC elections were compromised. The details are either known or ascertainable beyond reasonable doubt and therefore I may be succinct.
I have learned yesterday that Donald Grant vacated the instruction of the Eden & Central Karoo Education District that the election be voided and rescheduled. Such insouciance with democracy! And on the very eve of a critical by-election in his constituency!
This abominable decision trumps even the original perfidy.
The ballot is the ne plus ultra of democracy, inviolable beyond even a constitution.
To compromise ballots is a gross violation of the most elementary democratic right.
To expect high school learners to accept such sacrilege is to treat them with contempt and to impress upon their developing minds the noisome notion that corruptibility is acceptable; that compromising principle is condoned.
To defend the irreverence is unconscionable.
To ignore an instruction by the local education authority to right the wrong is flagitious.
To overturn a decision by the very people installed to safeguard educational standards is outrageous.
The learners of Oudtshoorn High School deserve better than teachers; a principal; a governing body; a district authority; and a minister who prefer obfuscation to transparency.
There is never reason sufficient not to do the right thing and I expect you, Helen, to do the right thing. Because that’s what you are known to do, once you have all the data.
The premier’s most efficient administrative secretary, Myrtle Jonathan (I suggested to her, to howls of laughter down the line, that she runs against her boss for the party leadership) managed my letter admirably. Zille was conducting a cabinet meeting and wanted to peruse her education ministry’s response before Jonathan sent it to me at 16h01.
It was a blinder. I emphasise the relevant portions:
Thank you for your correspondence dated 16 October 2012 regarding the SRC election held at Oudtshoorn High School.
The content of your correspondence has been duly noted and carefully considered.
Please note the following with regard to your query: Measures were published in the Provincial Gazette in 2008 to regulate the nomination and election of a school governing body and the nomination and election of a representative council of learners at a public school in the Western Cape.
In terms of these measures, certain procedures applicable to the nomination and election of educator members to school governing bodies apply to the nomination and election of a representative council of learners. However, the dispute resolution measures applicable to the nomination and election of educator members to school governing bodies do not apply to disputes concerning the nomination and election of a representative council of learners.
The electoral officer for the nomination and election of a representative council of learners is the school principal. Should any dispute arise with regard to the nomination and election of a representative council of learners, the principal as the electoral officer is required to consider and make a final decision on the matter. The measures do not provide for an appeal process in the context of the nomination and election of a representative council of learners.
In the light of the above, neither the Provincial Minister of Education nor the Western Cape Education Department has the legal competency to intervene in matters concerning the nomination and election of a representative council of learners. These matters are the exclusive remit of the principal. On this basis, the WCED arranged for the withdrawal of an instruction wrongly issued by the district office concerned.
The decision of the electoral officer in the context of the nomination and election of a representative council of learners may be reviewed by the courts.
I remind readers of my earlier mention of the relevance of the expression “vriendelik versoek”, used by local circuit management, in reading my final letter to the principal:
My brief van 16 Oktober verwys.
Dat die verkiesing van die VRL ongerymd was is ‘n onbetwisbare feit wat jy erken het toe jy verklaar het dat die stembriewe nie behoorlik hanteer is nie.
Jy, Johan, is die verkiesingsbeampte vir die nominasie en verkiesing van die VRL. Jy moet oordeel uitoefen oor dispute en ‘n bepaling maak.
Hierdie absolute mag plaas ‘n enorme verantwoordelikheid op jou.
Jou besluit was duidelik toe jy opdrag gegee het vir ‘n tweede ronde nominasies: die verkiesing moet oorgehou word.
Dat die beheerraad slegs nádat die tweede ronde nominasies ingedien is die nuwe verkiesing voorkom het, trek ten beste op ‘n appèl en kan moontlik selfs neerkom op onbehoorlike beïnvloeding van die verkiesingsbeampte.
Die teenswoordige regulasies maak nie voorsiening vir ‘n appèl nie; en dit is ondenkbaar dat die verkiesingsbeampte sy besluit wysig ná ‘n tweede ronde nominasies.
Jou besluit maak die versoek (let wel: nié ‘n “instruction”, soos die premier verkeerdelik vermeld nie) van die Eden en Karoo Onderwysdistrik en die kennisgewing van mnr Clive Roos van die minsiter se kantoor onsaaklik: Nóg die beheerraad; nóg die onderwysdistrik, nóg die WKOD, nóg die provinsiale minister het die bevoegdheid om die besluit van die verkiesingsbeampte te wysig.
Die hantering van hierdie aangeleentheid reflekteer swak op ‘n trotse skool. Die leerders verdien beter.
Dit is steeds nie te laat om die regte ding te doen nie.
Nothing was done by the principal to rectify this flawed process.
This unfortunate tale has still an even more unfortunate tail… if a bigger abuse is indeed possible.
On Thursday I received a call from my youngest daughter in obvious distress.
I rushed to the school to discover a despicable dénouement.
A teacher, in a class not taken by my daughter, was reported by friends of my daughter’s to have discussed, with her class, my role in compromising the reputation of Oudtshoorn High with my complaint.
No harm done, I say my say the way I say my say and am quite prepared to take fliegerabwehrkanonen fire – flak, for lesser logodaedali. Even if the flak is absurd, such as that I was organising a march against the school’s handling of the election. My, what a thought! However, when I have a problem I speak my mind; I do not dance my mind!
But that my child was compromised because her dad stood up against a clear and present violation of the basic democratic rights of her peers and her – an abuse identified by the circuit management; an abuse acknowledged by the principal; an abuse ignored by the governing body… Not acceptable!
I challenged the teacher in the presence of the principal within 20 minutes of fetching my shaken child home.
The teacher assured me that she never said a word about my child; never even mentioned her name, or the name of any other learner for that matter, and… and…
I am old and wise enough not to trust to school yard banter and accepted, again, the integrity of teachers at Oudtshoorn High.
And in any event, so I argued, I consulted my daughter before I filed my complaint way back on September 5, and I warned her of the inevitable recoil, and she was happy to let me make my point, there’s my daughter – and her sister!
But then the real facts of what transpired in that teacher’s classroom came to light.
My daughter has had a relationship with a coloured learner, and student leader no less, at Oudtshoorn High for some time. He is like an own child in the home my wife and I make. We have taken fliegerabwehrkanonen fire for this relationship beyond our most outrageous expectations, but we accept that people will have their own views of things.
Yet guess what?
The teacher referred to this “interracial” relationship in a questionable manner. This from a teacher in a high school in the Western Cape of South Africa! In 2012. Almost the last quarter of 2012.
She said that visitors to Oudtshoorn High, sometime last year, considering to enrol their children, happened to see my daughter and her boyfriend together and decided there and then that Oudtshoorn High was not for their children. They decided, so the teacher said, to enrol their children at Langenhoven Gymnasium.
I am not even going to address the loathsome covert insult in the face of Gimmies!
But I am going to address this teacher’s clear unsuitability to teach; to influence young minds, to be sure!
I write this nauseating report after four failed attempts to discuss the matter with the teacher.
I called her on Thursday afternoon after comments from learners past and present started to stream in, and told her that I discovered that she lied to me about what transpired in her class. I asked that we meet the next day. She indicated that she had to assist with grade 12 matters, but that she would call to set up a meeting. And she said, when I confronted her with what I have learned about the incident, that she stood by whatever she said, or words to that effect.
I sms’d her three times on Friday, and she drove past me as I waited to fetch my daughter from school – forced to return my all smiles and waving greeting as she waited for traffic coming from where I was parked.
She has not responded.
I will charge her on Monday with conduct unbecoming and I will insist that she be prosecuted to the fullest extend of however the education department does these things.
Not only did the teacher attack my daughter’s choices and lifestyle; she also dragged my “religious convictions”, such as she may have the questionable ability to attempt to understand my views, having never spoken to me about it, into the matter when my eldest daughter, from university, admonished her for her behaviour on social media.
Her statements clearly indicate religious bias, to exacerbate her quite apparent racial bias.
And here, my longsuffering readers, are some of the comments from learners past and present, in response to my child’s agony…
2012 Gr12: Omw>:O sy kan nooit haar fkn mond hou nie. Wens iemand wil haar op haar plek sit! Sy moet groot word. 😦
2012 Gr12: Ai tog jng..tuma daai is nou maar eenkeer NAME
2010 Gr12: Omw mens dun ni dti ! Ds ook net sy
Current learner:Haha help gu hier? Va wate 0nnie praat j nou?
2011 Gr12: Haha nee
Current learner: O okay, ek ga tog more uitvind _
2011 Gr12: Haha nope j sali
Current learner: 3-| j vergeet ekt SUBJECT_ daai juf skinder n ding d00d by my
2011 Gr12: Haha oja het sy nog niks byjule gese ni
Current learner: Syt vndg we hoeka geskinder vn n ou wt sy v00r di h00f uitgekk ht 0mdt h 0p fb 0ns naam slegmaak_ds nu 1 juf wt nooit ha mond ka hou ni
2011 Gr12: Wana sy dit gedun
Current learner: Syt di 0ggend vertel sy 0p fb besig 0m te kyk wie di 0u wat 0ns naam sleggemaak ht 00r die hele verkiesing m0s we s0u 00rgedoen gewrd ht ..t0e ht sy di persoon gekry en 2de p0use t0e sy m kry,t0e r0ep sy m nader en sp0g h0e sy di 0u v00r di h00f uitgetrap ht en dt sy s0 tr0ts 0p ha sk00l is, niemnd mg nx verkeerd se vha sk00l
By the way, I, apparently, was the man she so deftly put right, mind!
I am discombobulated by the inference that damage to the school’s reputation could have been caused by indicating wrongdoing… and, apparently, not by the wrongdoing itself. Astonishing!
– The ballots were compromised. Period.
– The election should have been nullified and rescheduled. Period.
– Oudtshoorn High chose to treat its learners with contempt and to impress upon their developing minds the noisome notion that corruptibility is acceptable; that compromising principle is condoned. Period.
Ye gods and faeries! We’re trapped in Pink Floyd’s The Wall!
If we in South Africa are ever to dig ourselves out of failure, we’d better get education sorted out!
Education is not coaching teenagers through matric; education is installing skepticism and logic and reason.
Education is not teaching the 3 R’s and a bit of Shakespeare and Van Wyk Louw; education is installing critical thinking.
Education is not teaching that authority should be blindly accepted; education is installing respect for human rights and democratic principle, come what may.
With reference to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 outburst against Barack Obama, I say: “Shame on you Oudtshoorn High… Shame – on – YOU!”
The learners of Oudtshoorn High deserve better; deserve the best.