Sparks are expected to fly at the Suid Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie’s (SAOU) annual principal conference, with concerned members asking Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to reconsider her decision to attend the event.
The group of principals have vowed to use the trade union’s Principals Symposium to sharply demand answers on allegations of financial irregularities involving more than R500-million currently being probed by the Hawks.
The union is hosting the four-day seminar at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, from September 1-4, with the minister expected to deliver a keynote address on the third day.
In a letter addressed from the concerned group’s lawyers, which The Citizen has seen, the members notify Motshekga about the criminal investigation against the union’s top brass currently underway.
“We are instructed that the investigation is focussed on the financial management of the SAOU as well as several historical transactions. […] The Department of Labour is currently undertaking an investigation into several allegations of financial mismanagement made by various members of the SAOU,” the lawyers state.
The members instructed their lawyers to notify the minister that the SAOU has refused to subject itself to an independent forensic investigation, though the concerned principals have offered to foot the bill.
“Given the seriousness of the allegations, and the advanced stage of the investigations […,] it is our respectful request that the decision to attend and speak at the Symposium be reconsidered,” the letter, dated August 22, states.
At the heart of the members’ concerns are the union’s links to Financial Services of South Africa (Finsa), TO Onderlinge Maatskappy (Pty) Ltd (Toom) and the South African Education Foundation (SAEF), of which the union’s top executives are alleged to be directors.
The members claim that union funds were being channelled into these entities in the form of loans, rent and management fees, questioning loans totalling more than R49.8 million allegedly paid from SAEF to Toom and Finsa.
Also of major concern to members was that the union was renting offices in Garsfontein, Pretoria, from SAEF, although the building originally belonged to the Transvaalse Onderwysvereniging, later SAOU.
Motshekga confirmed receipt of the letter, but said she was attending and will speak at the conference as this was an old commitment to the SAOU, and not to individuals being probed.
“I met their representatives this week with other unions [and] I am not going to prejudge what the law enforcement agencies are still busy with [and] until proven guilty, everyone should be perceived as innocent,” she said.
Louw Erasmus, the union’s lawyer and spokesperson, said the conference was not a formal structure of the union where internal grievances could be discussed but a formal gathering where matters of interest regarding education were discussed, and where members are equipped for the challenges ahead.
“The SAOU respects any disgruntled member’s constitutional right to air grievances, provided it is done in a constructive fashion and in the appropriate forum,” he said.
Erasmus said the aim of the “disgruntled members” were to disrupt the proceedings and cause an embarrassment for the SAOU and the minister.
“This is hardly the behaviour expected of a professional educator who has been sent by his/her school to the symposium for educational reasons,” Erasmus said.