Mandla in R100m school row

Mthatha - Mandla Mandela, chief of Mvezo in the Eastern Cape and the eldest grandson of former president Nelson Mandela, stands accused of interfering in the running of the Mandela School of Science and Technology and encouraging pupils to revolt against the principal.

He is also accused of pitching up to school assemblies to address the pupils without first clearing this with the headmaster, and demanding to see the CVs of teachers before they are hired.

Five independent sources – including officials from the provincial education department and staff at the school, situated in the small village of Mvezo – say Mandela was the institution’s de facto principal.

They allege that Mandela, who is also an ANC MP, encouraged pupils to “revolt against the principal” and get rid of him.

Principal Pat Toni is on “special leave” – pending an investigation by the provincial education department’s risk management unit – for having allegedly abused school funds.

The school was built by international engineering firm Siemens at a cost of R100m, and was opened by President Jacob Zuma in January 2014.

“Even the leadership of the provincial government is afraid to intervene at that school because they are scared of Mandla,” said one education official.

“You intervene at the school and the next thing, you get a call from Pretoria telling you to leave Mandla alone,” he added.

“The school is being run from Mvezo Great Place [Mandela’s residence]; that is why Mandla and the principal do not see eye-to-eye. The principal is not afraid to challenge Mandla and tell him he is only answerable to the department of education, not a chief.”

No longer welcome

Mandela, however, denied any interference in the school, saying he had nothing to do with the placement of the principal on special leave.

Siemens has also defended him, denying that he interfered and saying he has instead been a “big help”.

Toni, though, confirmed the five sources’ allegations.

“It was decided in a parents’ meeting, chaired by Mandla, that they no longer want me at the school and I should not be allowed back there. The learners were told as much,” he said.

“But I went back to the school, despite knowing this information. Learners come to me and told me to leave because a meeting chaired by Mandla decided I was no longer welcome at the school.”

Toni alleged Mandela constantly interfered in the school’s administration, calling meetings only the headmaster was supposed to call.

Despite opening several cases of intimidation with the police, not a single pupil had been questioned, Toni said.

“I think the police generally are afraid of the chief. They have not gone to the school to investigate. There is general intimidation and fear. People are too scared of Mandla.

“General workers [security guards and cleaners] at the school are paid from Mvezo Great Place through Mandela’s mother, Nolusapho. She hires and fires these general workers and pays them from money provided to her by Siemens.”

Produce results

Mandela, however, denied that he and his mother had anything to do with the school’s problems.

“Clearly, I do not have powers of putting people on special leave, because they do not get paid by me. I didn’t even know he was on special leave,” he said.

“The school governing body was told that [Toni] had been suspended for failing to co-operate with the department’s investigation.

"That is what was said by the education MEC [Mandla Makhuphula] verbatim. I cannot change what the MEC’s decision is and how he [Toni] did not comply with the investigation.”

Asked whether he had encouraged a revolt against the principal, Mandela said: “I built a school for R100m.

"There is no traditional leader in Africa who has built a school for R100m. Let us be clear. You as City Press should be congratulating [me for] that.

“People must see the good that the Mvezo Traditional Council is doing, instead of trying to put us in muddy waters on things that we are not even involved in.

"We delivered a school and we gave it to them [the education department]. They must run a school and must produce results.”

Mandela said Siemens provided the money for the school’s maintenance and employed community members to do the work.

Broken down buses

“That is a Siemens decision. It has nothing to do with Great Place. Siemens came to us and said ... there were financial problems at the school, and would rather take their money and ensure that it went directly to the community,” he said.

“You must ask Rita Nkuhlu [the executive director for business excellence at Siemens in sub-Saharan Africa] why she withdrew funding from the school and sought to fund a community sustainability programme.

"If a funder decides to buy KFC today and tomorrow it buys Chicken Licken, it is the funder’s decision. It has nothing to do with me and [mama Nolusapho] or the Great Place,” Mandela said.

Pupils could be seen walking long distances to school in the morning because buses which Siemens had provided had broken down.

Education official Delarey Mkhatshwa said one bus was being held in an East London warehouse because R60 000 was still owed for repairs. The other was stuck at the school premises after having broken down.

The school also had no water as its pump was broken, despite Siemens having contributed R15m to support maintenance in the past three years.

Nkuhlu said Siemens was aware that the principal had been on special leave since October. She also defended the Mvezo chief.

Special leave

“As far as Chief Zwelivelile [Mandela’s praise name] is concerned, he has not been interfering.

"In fact, he has been collaborating with Siemens, as well as with the senior administrator currently appointed to the school, to ensure it remains stable,” she said.

“During exam time, he came in very handy for us because, by being present in Mvezo, he was able to support the school, staff and senior administrator to ensure that exams did take place.”

Nkuhlu said the funds used to pay the workers were not linked to the school, but were part of enterprise development to help sustain the community.

Education department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima would only confirm that the principal was on special leave. He declined to comment further, saying the matter was being investigated.

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