Feud over school’s finances escalates

Morningside High principal seeks protection order against clergyman

The gloves are off in a bitter battle over school funds, with a prominent Port Elizabeth reverend and the school’s principal hurling vicious accusations at each other as they ask the police and courts to step in. While the Rev Xolani Tengo and Morningside High principal Dr Saraswathi Pather prepare to square off, the Eastern Cape Department of Education will convene a meeting for all concerned stakeholders today.

The Herald reported last week that the department was preparing to lay internal charges and possibly also a criminal complaint after conducting a probe into allegations of financial irregularities at Morningside High in Linton Grange.

The probe, which covered the school’s 2013 to 2016 financial years, uncovered a raft of alleged financial mismanagement issues and irregularities.

The report implicated Pather and Timothy Hendricks, the former head of the school’s governing body and tuck shop manager.

On Friday, Tengo – who laid the initial complaint in the matter – will appear in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court after Pather sought a protection order against him.

However, last week, Tengo opened a case of crimen injuria and defamation against Pather, saying that she had lied in her application for the protection order.

Tengo and Pather have been at loggerheads since 2013, when he first started appealing for the department to launch an investigation into the school’s financial affairs.

In her application for a protection order, which The Herald has seen, Pather refers to an incident in 2013 when Tengo served as an SGB member at the school.

“[The] Rev Tengo came onto the school grounds with a firearm, saying he was going to remove me from the premises,” she says in the court papers.

Pather says other SGB members surrounded her in an effort to protect her from Tengo.

Tengo also allegedly regularly sends her threats via cellphone and calls her at weekends and after hours.

She said he used the media to “defame, bully and harass” her.

Pather claims that Tengo’s alleged harassment continued from 2013 to now and that he had also placed articles in Die Son newspaper, accusing her of fraud.

“I want him to stop sending me messages via telephone and cellphone, stop commenting on me or reporting to the newspapers about me personally,” she says in the application.

“I don’t want him to come near me or my home.”

Pather declined to comment on the matter yesterday.

However, Tengo said: “I believe she is trying to silence me. She is a pathological liar.

“I want her to come to court and see if she can prove all these things.”

He denied he had ever threatened Pather with a firearm, saying he did not own one.

Tengo said he had sent Pather a message early last year after she allegedly did not want his daughter to be admitted for Grade 8 at the school.

“I told her to stop humiliating my daughter. I said I was going to deal with her,” he said.

“I only sent her two messages. The other message I sent was to ask her to watch a programme about education.”

Tengo said Pather applied for the protection order in March in what he believed was retaliation after he spoke to a newspaper about the department’s investigation into Morningside’s finances.

The alleged financial mismanagement issues and irregularities uncovered by the probe included incidents of “under-banking” – when the school is alleged to have banked less than its annual revenue – and “over-banking”, when it allegedly banked more than it had received.

The department’s report also highlighted fruitless and wasteful expenditure, gross misconduct and dereliction of duty, the failure to comply with various sections of the South African Schools Act, unauthorised debit orders from the school’s account and substantial expenditure, including by the tuck shop, which did not have any supporting documentation.

Provincial education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said a meeting for all stakeholders involved in the matter would be held at the Port Elizabeth district office today.

After the department completed its investigation and finalised the draft report, Tengo approached the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) for help in ensuring the department implemented its own recommendations.

The Cape Town-based law clinic has called for a criminal investigation.

EELC attorney Chandre Stuurman said: “It is important to note that the department is taking steps regarding this matter, but it is also important that they provide timelines on how long it will take to conclude this matter.

“We need this to be resolved so everything can return to normal.”

Leave a Reply