CCMA hears case of teacher sacked for ‘fighting racism’

A black teacher at Curro Academy who was dismissed by the institution shortly after she was allegedly called a monkey by her white boss has taken the school to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for unfair dismissal and discrimination.

Nonkululeko Gwatyu, who was allegedly racially attacked by the school’s former executive, Shanette Tiquin, at Curro’s Protea Glen branch, in Soweto, filed a case of discrimination against the school, saying it dismissed her for standing up against a racist employee.

Gwatyu has also filed a case of unfair dismissal after the school punished her for alle-gedly arriving late, claiming that the charge was a ruse to fire her for standing up to Tiquin, who had called her a monkey the previous year.

On March 4 this year, Gwatyu and Curro met at the CCMA, where the matter was briefly heard. The commissioner, Thandiwe Tsheyana, who was presiding over the matter, is said to have asked the two parties if they could settle the matter, but Curro refused, contending that it had a strong case against Gwatyu.

Tsheyana then referred the matter to the Labour Court after advising the parties that the CCMA did not have jurisdiction over discrimination cases. In the case of unfair dismissal, Gwatyu was advised by the commissioner that there would be a conciliation hearing between herself and Curro on April 10.

However, the commissioner stated that should both parties fail to conciliate and reach a settlement, then the arbitration process would kick in.

Curro filed a notice of intention to challenge Gwatyu’s case on March 26 through its law firm, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr Inc.

Curro dismissed Gwatyu for alleged late-coming and for taking French leave after hauling her before a disciplinary hearing and finding her guilty of misconduct.

According to the charge sheet, which we have seen, Curro charged Gwatyu a few months after she complained that Tiquin had racially attacked her.

The charge sheet reads in part: “Due to your conduct described below, you committed gross misconduct, or alternatively, misconduct in that you failed to adhere to your contractual working hours commencing at 07:00 and ending at 15:30 from Monday to Friday. It is alleged that you arrived late for work. It is alleged that you were absent without authori-sation.”

In the email she sent to Curro Holdings executive for corporate services and the group company secretary, Mari Lategan, in November last year, Gwatyu challenged the decision to charge her with misconduct.

She claimed that her medical doctor had diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and severe depression as a direct result of the racism case. Gwatyu also stated that she had communicated the outcome of her consultations with psychologists and other doctors to the school’s executive head, Johannes Mahlatsi.

“In his leadership capacity, Mr Mahlatsi advised that I should always prioritise my health and utilise any help at my disposal.”

She said the school’s principal, Ofentse Konopi, also offered her an opportunity to deal with her PTSD. She said Konopi had started to enlist her help when one of the school’s teachers relieved her from her duties.

“I took advantage of the offer of Mr Konopi, which I had initially suspected to be a plot against me. The help did not materialise because of differences in the English department, which I brought to Mr Mahlatsi’s attention.

“I ended up requesting alternative help, which is a student teacher and a dongle to carry out other administrative tasks at home. That was not provi-ded until very late, when marks were due, and I had to manage with no assistance from the school,” said Gwatyu.

Gwatyu also stated that to rub salt into the wound, Mahlatsi hand-delivered the charge sheet to her house when she was on her sick bed and allegedly forced her to sign the documents despite her condition. Following the hearing, Gwatyu received her dismissal on her birthday.

According to the dismissal letter we’ve seen, Advocate Ntombi Mncube, the disciplinary chairperson, concluded an outcome report that led to Gwatyu’s expulsion from the school.

 The teacher told Sunday World that it was clear that she was targeted for standing up against Tiquin.

Gwatyu said there were morning meetings at the school, which she would attend with other educators, and that they normally attended meetings first without tagging their cards. They would do so after the meetings.

“I was not the only person who would not tag. I was singled out despite others who also tagged after the meeting, merely because I was seen as a problem when I stood up against racism.

“Since the scandal of Tiquin surfaced last year, I became a target of all sorts of things at the school, and I became a persona non grata as I was hated for standing up for myself against the racist Tiquin,” she said.

 Tiquin has denied that she called Gwatyu a monkey.

Gwatyu’s lawyer Dimakatso Mashego of Dima Mashego Attorneys said: “We have filed an application at the CCMA regarding my client’s unfair dismissal by Curro. The matter will be heard on 10 April. Curro had objected to conciliation and arbitration process. If there is no resolution, the arbitrator will issue a certificate to state the case is not resolved. This will allow my client to apply for arbitration.” He said he will also take Curro head on regarding discrimination case.

Curro business executive Fergus Sampson said: “Curro Holdings is resolute in its position that the allegations made by the former employee are baseless and devoid of merit.”

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