Teacher fired for sex abuse ... but turns out it was a vendetta
Man falsely accused by three pupils has to be reinstated and compensated for loss of income
A “diligent educator” promoted to head of department lost his job after apparently jealous fellow teachers allegedly conspired to get three pupils to lay charges of sexual harassment against him.
But now a bargaining council for teachers has ordered the Mpumalanga education department to reinstate Christopher Nkonyane and pay him R605,000 by the end of October to compensate him for lost income.
In her ruling the council’s arbitrator said his dismissal was substantively unfair, and she poked holes in the stories of the three pupils who complained about him.
A regional court in Piet Retief, Mpumalanga had in March 2016 already found Christopher Nkonyane, a head of department at Ithole Primary School in Amsterdam, not guilty of sexual harassment.
The department dismissed Nkonyane in August last year after he was found guilty in a disciplinary hearing of sexually harassing three pupils.
Nkonyane then took the matter to the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) and an arbitration award was made on September 20.
According to a transcript of the arbitration award, one of the pupils testified that she was busy completing a project in an office when the teacher entered the room, closed the door slightly and asked her why she no longer visited him. He then allegedly asked her to give him a hug.
She said she became “scared” as he moved closer, and claimed that he put his hand under her skirt and caressed her thighs.
The pupil told him she would report him and he allegedly told her she was getting clever and left her.
Asked during cross-examination why she did not scream, she said she was afraid he was going to rape her.
She was also asked why she did not report the matter immediately and her response was that she wanted to report it at home first. She then reported the matter to her grandmother who reported it to the principal.
The second pupil complained that, after she and a fellow pupil, the third complainant, returned to his office from an errand, the teacher allegedly asked her for a hug as he wanted to thank her. He then turned her face towards him and kissed her on the lips, she alleged.
Nkonyane denied all the allegations against him, saying he found the door open and it remained so during the short conversation he had with her.
He said he went to his office and found her in a teacher’s office. He found it unusual for a pupil to be sent to do schoolwork in a teacher’s office during teaching time.
He denied having any contact with the girl or the other two complainants.
According to the arbitration award document, Nkonyane concluded that the entire case was staged by his colleagues in an attempt to taint his reputation and to get him dismissed.
He referred to the strained relationship with his colleagues after he supported the appointment of the new principal and after his subsequent appointment as head of department.
The ELRC’s arbitrator, Geraldine Khoza, who found Nkonyane’s dismissal to be “substantively unfair”, said the coincidence was that all three pupils reacted in the same manner by preferring to have the matter reported to their grandmothers instead of at the school.
“I am uncomfortable with this aspect and conclude that it goes directly to the credibility of the witnesses. It is highly improbable that all three witnesses can independently react in the same manner when such reaction is not the only possible reaction.”
She said Nkonyane has been “a diligent educator” for about 20 years and was promoted to head of department.
“This, in my view, is characteristic of a person who takes his work seriously and who has the respect of his peers.”
Nkonyane, who was expected to report for duty by Monday, told Times Select he did not know at which school he would be placed.
“I am still waiting to hear from the department but I am relieved that it’s over. My character has been defamed and I still want to clear my name.”
Mpumalanga education department spokesperson Jasper Zwane said they were studying the order and “exploring possibilities of filing for a review”.