Sybil Francis was rebuffed at every turn when she wanted payment for her six-month stint as a lecturer at a Community Learning Centre (CLC), a Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) project, in Elsies River.
The Parow Valley teacher said her contract was from July 1 to December 31 2018. She did not volunteer but signed to be paid a stipend of R11 094.09.
Ms Francis said she has a copy of the contract, however, at some point the DHET required a motivation letter from head office in Elsies River and after that there was no communication.
“I sent numerous emails to the DHET and from December 14 2018 to December 1 2019 I sent 20 letters to various stakeholders in the department which were forwarded to Kumbulani Kalimashe, who did nothing for me. I wrote to him a few times and even had a lawyer’s letter sent on October 14 2019, which he didn’t acknowledge in any way, not even to the attorney,” said Ms Francis, who also complained to the principal, Jen Harris and Medwin Jacobs, deputy director at the Elsies River head office, but they did nothing to help her.
I know that feeling well: I sent Ms Francis’s letter to Mr Jacobs and to Ms Harris, who after a prompt acknowledged my message but did not say if she could help or even if she wanted to; Mr Kalimashe; chief director in Pretoria, Fanie Reyneke; Venecia Kruger and investigator John Smith, all employed by the DHET, did not reply either.
After much difficulty I managed to contact Seema Ramnarain, chief director: corporate communications and media liaison for DHET, who said: “I will send this to the relevant colleagues for a response. You will get the official comment from our media liaison officer, Ishmael Mnisi, as this is our media protocol”.
Mr Mnisi didn’t reply nor did I have any great expectations as he was one of the first people I contacted. He ignored my email then as well as Ms Ramnarain’s. So much for protocol.
And, as Ms Francis pointed out, it is indicative of a serious problem within the DHET. While my messages were falling in to the proverbial black hole Ms Francis was carrying on her battle with an unsympathetic and uncaring bureaucracy.
However, when Ms Francis had been in the post for five months, without payment, Ms Harris sent her to Stellenbosch in November 2018 to discuss her problem with a DHET investigator which had arrived from Pretoria.
“They found my information on the system and noted that I had been appointed under the wrong code. Investigating officer, John Smith, rectified it and and attached a note to Venecia Kruger, asking her to give it attention. I followed up almost every month, wrote to Mr Reyneke and he forwarded the email to Mr Kalimashe,” Ms Francis said.
“I spoke twice to Mr Kalimashe after many attempts to get hold of him. The first time he said I must phone back in 10 minutes and when I tried again he didn’t answer. I tried again the next day and when he eventually answered, he said the documents were with the director. I sometimes phoned him 10 times a day, it rings, meaning it’s not busy and then goes to voice mail.
“At one point I wrote to Naledi Pandor, the then DHET minister and her PA sent it to Mr Kalimashe,” Ms Francis said.
She asked Mr Smith on December 1 2019 to investigate and copied it to Mr Kalimashe with the expected response – none.
“They don’t even respond to emails sent from head office in Elsies River. There are lots and lots of educators struggling to get their salaries,” Ms Francis said.
In April this year, Ms Francis told me the good news.
“They finally paid me, but not the DHET, the college council (which has similar powers to a school governing body (SGB).
“I have been on Mr Jacobs’s case, emailed him every week and went to his office about three times. He eventually said that the SGB decided to pay me and that was also another agony. They eventually made payment on Thursday March 26 2020.
Mr Jacobs said the correspondence with the DHET is still continuing and if at some point they do pay I must refund the college which won’t be a problem.
“When I asked him what the problem was, he said the DHET doesn’t respond to his emails. A colleague from the college told me that the principal had said the ‘office messed up’ which is why the DHET don’t want to pay,” Ms Francis said.
“I’m just happy this chapter is now closed. Thank you for walking that extra mile with me,” she said.