Paterson principals caught up in spat

Black and coloured communities in standoff after ‘forced removal’ of high school headmaster

A spat which saw a coloured principal forced out of his job and a black principal threatened with hers, caused teaching at a Paterson primary school to come to an abrupt halt yesterday.

Pupils at the primary and high schools are caught in the middle of their warring parents, who have separated into two groups – one coloured and the other black.

Coloured residents have threatened to remove Sandiswa Shwempe, a black principal of Moreson Primary School, following the forced removal of Leon Zealand as the principal of Sandisulwazi High School.

Zealand, a coloured principal, was removed by residents on May 5 during a protest at Sandisulwazi High.

And fearing for the safety of pupils, Moreson Primary parents fetched their children early yesterday where the two groups confronted and pushed each other around on the school grounds.

Sandisulwazi High governing body chairman Alfred Salters labelled the removal of Zealand as racial and political. “The community has a problem because the principal is a coloured.

They do not want coloureds at the school,” he said. Salters said black parents also had a problem with him as he was coloured. Since Zealand’s removal, there has been no one teaching the 72 pupils who take Afrikaans.

“Zealand was the only one teaching Afrikaans,” Salters said. While the Eastern Cape Department of Education intervened and held a meeting for parents yesterday, others have warned that Moreson Primary will be closed again today.

Education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima condemned the removal of Zealand and the conduct of teachers such as ANC Ward 4 branch chairman and Kayakhulu Primary teacher Luyanda Baka.

“The district has intervened and is on top of the situation. We are handling it,” Mtima said.

He said a team had been sent to Paterson to provide leadership in Zealand’s absence. “Right now our priority is to ensure stability and to ensure that school functionality is not compromised.

“Once a community ejects a principal we have the responsibility to hear what happened,” Mtima said.

“The department has the responsibility to weigh in. We need to talk to all stakeholders and this process is taking place now.”

Baka denied he had assisted in removing Zealand, saying he only helped parents ensure that teaching and learning resumed at Sandisulwazi High.

“How can I be in favour of the removal of someone? Let me stress this, Zealand was not removed,” he said. “We as community leaders have social responsibilities.

“One is to see to it that learners are taught and that the teaching environment is conducive for all.” Baka said the problem facing schools in Paterson was neither racial nor political.

But Zealand said he was still unsure why he was removed by residents.

“I do not understand this. We had the top matric pupil from an underprivileged school in the Uitenhage district coming from our school,” he said.

“We achieved in a short six months what has never been achieved before and suddenly people are deciding that this is not good enough. “It goes much deeper. That is all I can say.”

Shwempe said she was unaware that residents wanted her gone.

“I do not have any comment about this. “These parents should come to me themselves,” she said.

A Moreson school governing body member, who did not want to be named and who attended the meeting with the department, said she supported the removal of Shwempe.

“We told them that Shwempe is rude to us and does not include us,” she said. “She tells us that we need to make appointments to see her but then she never wants to make time for us.

“She does not want us there. We raised those points in the meeting.” Sandisulwazi High teacher Christine Wood said: “I was in no way – and neither were the other teachers to my knowledge – involved in the physical removal of Mr Zealand.

“We had nothing to do with it. The community members and the learners were involved.”

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