Governor who fired black teacher calls it quits
Now parents at the Cape Town school are calling for a transformation-friendly replacement for Gavin Downard
The governing body leader embroiled in the firing of a Cape Town school’s first black teacher has resigned.
Now some parents at Rustenburg Girls’ Junior School are campaigning to replace Gavin Downard with a candidate committed to transformation.
Former governing body chair Downard and former principal Di Berry – now retired – were singled out by Nozipho Mthembu, who took the southern suburbs school to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration in 2018.
She alleged the two “constructively dismissed” her when they gave her an ultimatum to resign.
The 26-year-old teacher, who won the CCMA case, alleged that the school singled her out for a mentorship programme that left her more traumatised than supported.
Her dismissal in September caused divisions at the school, where she was the first black teacher in its 125-year history. Some parents who supported Mthembu claimed she had been fired because of her race.
In its latest newsletter, the school announced that Downard – who had since moved from the governing body chairmanship into the position of treasurer – had resigned “due to increasing work commitments”.
The school said it would run a by-election on June 3 to find a replacement.
“If you are keen to add your voice to the governance and strategic direction of our school please consider standing for election. We are looking for a diverse range of opinions, skills and experience to join us,” read the newsletter.
The Rustenburg activist group Parents for Change said it hoped the new governor would contribute to transformation of the school.
After Mthembu’s dismissal, said spokesperson Stephen Langtry, the school started to engage in a process “which we hope will bring about greater transformation”.
He added: “A lot still remains to be done. Neither the school’s composition as a whole nor the SGB’s current composition reflects the racial demographics of Cape Town, let alone of South Africa.
“This remains a concern. We want the school to be representative of and responsive to the diversity of the broader community.”
Downard’s resignation comes just a few weeks before the school gets its first black principal. Belinda Petersen, the principal of Ottery Road Methodist Primary School, will take over in July.
Petersen, who holds a master’s degree in mathematics education from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, brings 16 years’ experience to the job.
Downard said he had stepped down from the chair of the governing body in January because of growing work commitments, and had recently been promoted to a job that required him to spend four days a week in Johannesburg.
“I realised that I could not do justice to my responsibilities on the SGB and adequately serve the school, so I tendered my resignation on the 29th April,” he said.
While Rustenburg offered “every single learner the best possible opportunity of success in life”, he acknowledged that it could be more “diverse, inclusive and transformed”.
Downard added: “This is why I’m very excited about the work that the SGB is driving to accelerate transformation through the involvement of as many stakeholders as possible.
“While the school is in a better place, there is still much work to be done. Through the lessons that have specifically been learnt over the last year or so, I have the greatest confidence in the SGB, school management, staff and entire parent body of the school to deliver on the school’s commitment to transform and embrace the value of diversity, inclusivity and excellence for all.