Several schools in areas north of Durban have had brushes with the group, Bambanani Oqhokweni, and more are expected to be targeted.
The forum, made up largely of small business owners, has declared that syndicates operating mainly in “Indian-run” schools are colluding to exclude African teachers and businesses from opportunities in the schooling sector, and they are determined to end the “Indian monopoly capital” in the education sector.
The forum also alleges corruption and fraud at schools, which they say they want to eliminate. The Education Department said it was unaware of the forum and its demands.
In a recent incident, the forum demanded Rosehill Primary School staff fill out an “audit” form detailing the number of African, Indian, white and coloured children and teachers at the school.
People who were willing to talk to the Independent on Saturday asked that their names and school names be withheld for fear of retribution.
A source close to one school said the forum wanted details of the service providers that handled their electrical, plumbing, gardening, pool cleaning and security needs.
The group is questioning why only Indian-owned companies have been contracted for more than five years for their work, while other African-owned businesses have been excluded from the process of accessing these opportunities.
“We are living in fear, we come to school on tenterhooks not knowing when the forum will pitch up and threaten us,” said one person.
“They are an illegal structure but come to our schools calling all the shots. We are working in the best interests of the children and providing education, no matter their colour or race, but all this forum is interested in is lining their pockets. Essentially, our schools have been captured, and the department is slow to help us.”
The forum has been accused of intimidating school governing body members to resign and then installing forum members who falsely state that they have children at the school to allegedly have access to the school’s funds.
Another source said: “Staff have been told if you are Indian you will be removed. When schools hire an electrician, as an example, you build a relationship of trust with them because you cannot simply allow any person to come onto school property and be near children if you don’t trust them. This is the reason some schools have long-term relationships with service providers, not because we are trying to deliberately exclude people.”
In another school, the forum is alleged to have installed itself on the school governing body in charge of contracting and authorising payment for services for the school.
The source alleged that two of the forum members owned cleaning and security services companies which would benefit from the demands, but feared that highly inflated prices would deplete the school’s healthy cash reserves.
Schools such as Corovoca Primary School, Sea Cow Lake Secondary, Effingham Primary and St Michael’s Primary School in Redhill have reportedly been targeted.
Deputy chairperson of the forum, Mbusa Mkhombe, said its intentions were to ensure that everyone had equal opportunities in the education sector.
Failing which, he said, the principals would be “removed”.
“Most of the Indian principals are colluding to ensure that only other Indians get jobs as teachers and staff members. However, there are so many black teachers who have put so much money into studying yet they cannot get access to work because the job is not advertised. In a school that has mostly black learners, how is it that most of the teachers are Indian? This is why we are saying to the principals that they need to transform, and if they don’t want to, then we will remove them,” said Mkhombe.
He added that many staff members, including those who were Indian, gave them information about what was happening in the school.
“We will disrupt the status quo. We have a database of black-owned businesses and the schools must use that to secure work; we don’t want them to use the Indian databases. But don’t get us wrong, we don’t hate the Indians; even they can come and get onto our database. We need transformation and we don’t need government to do this for us, even the education department is run by Indians in senior positions,” he said.
Mkhombe said they had conducted research on the schools and had information about corrupt activities such as bribes for vacant positions and fraud in securing service providers.
A private security company that attended to a call-out for assistance at a school where the forum was locked in a meeting with staff, said their Indian security officers were told: “Go back to India.”
The KZN Education Department said it was unaware of the forum and its demands.
Sicelo Khuzwayo, spokesman for the department, said: “It is most unfortunate to hear of this, but at the level of the head office, we have not heard of these incidents. Principals know what protocol to follow if they feel threatened or unsafe and we do not have any reports from our principals. If these incidents have happened we urge them to start the process of reporting.”
Khuzwayo said the department placed quality of education as its priority and everything was done within the ambit of the law.
“From time to time we welcome the intervention of stakeholders, so people are welcome to raise their issues with us. We will take the matter up and find out if there have been any incidents,” said Khuzwayo.
It is believed a high-level meeting will take place on Monday between the department and principals.