Why was Roedean’s principal suspended? The truth is starting to emerge
The board of the posh Joburg school denies it has anything to do with two controversial incidents last year
The chairperson of the board at a Johannesburg private school is keeping mum about the reason for the principal’s suspension.
In a letter dated January 14, chairperson Audrey Mothupi informed teachers and pupils of Roedean that the headmaster, Murray Thomas, had been suspended with immediate effect.
The move comes just days before pupils return to the school for the new year on Wednesday. Teachers and the administrative staff resumed duty last week.
In the final week of 2018 at the school, the Sunday Times reported that Roedean, where almost 90% of teachers are white, controversially re-employed life orientation teacher Tshidi Mogodiri a day after announcing she would be leaving.
In that same week, Thomas also apologised at a school assembly for saying that Grade 9 pupil Avela Swana’s poem about the mispronunciation of names, which was not meant to offend anyone, did just that.
But Mothupi was adamant that Thomas’s suspension was not linked to the incidents involving Mogodiri or Swana.
“An internal process has to run to allow for a fair process for both sides. Quite frankly, if you look at the basis of what a suspension means it literally removes somebody from an environment to allow a fair process of investigation.”
She said to present the reasons [for the suspension] “it’s almost pre-empting the investigation because, even I as I sit with you, I cannot conclusively say these are the reasons”.
“I am just creating space in the organisation for a fair process.”
In her letter, she informed staff and pupils they would be notified of the next steps pending the outcome of the investigation.
Fiona Rogers, the school’s deputy headmistress for curriculum, was appointed as acting principal.
Roedean’s 82 matrics bagged 346 distinctions in the different subjects in 2018, an average of 4.2 distinctions per girl.
All 82 candidates qualified for university studies.
On December 4, Thomas apologised to staff in an e-mail for not informing them that Mogodiri would be leaving when the school closed for the Christmas holidays.
During the school’s year-end function the following day, an emotional Mogodiri, who had been at the school for more than 10 years, bade farewell to her colleagues, telling them she was leaving with a heavy heart.
That afternoon, the Sunday Times sent questions to the school, asking why Mogodiri had been let go. That evening Mogodiri was called to an urgent meeting where she was told about her new post.
At the time, Thomas declined to divulge why the school suddenly decided to re-employ Mogodiri.
A teacher, who preferred to remain anonymous, said at the time that “many of the regressive things that happened this year  didn't use to happen prior to him”.
Thomas took over the helm at Roedean after resigning as principal of St Peter’s Girls School in Johannesburg in 2015. According to an item in St Peter’s Girls' newsletter dated November 12 2015, he resigned “in order to pursue other interests in the future”.
A teacher at the school said they were not told why Thomas was suspended.
“The understanding among the staff I spoke to is that it’s a mounting up of events over his two years at the school, where he has just been a bad fit, and his conservative views and dictatorial style and lack of humanity means he hasn’t connected well with the pupils or staff.”
The teacher said the relationship between Thomas and staff had broken down.
“They just didn’t see the school being able to function like that.”
A pupil said she heard about the principal’s suspension for the first time on Monday: “No one really knows why he was suspended, but I think it must have been something serious.”
Lebogang Montjane, executive director of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (Isasa), said they were always concerned when a head was suspended.
“Hopefully, the matter is going to be resolved in an amicable and constructive way. Above all else, it always has to be in the best interests of the school.”
Roedean is an one of the Isasa member schools.
• Elana Barkhuizen, a Grade R teacher at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke, a government school in North West, was suspended by the provincial education department last week for taking photographs of four five-year-old black children sitting at a desk on their own, apart from their white classmates.
The photographs made international headlines.
The department reportedly said that Barkhuizen was suspended because she took the pictures and she must have known what she saw was wrong.
• The Eastern Cape education department is investigating King Edward School in Matatiele where back and white pupils are separated, seemingly along language lines.