1 February 2023
The Labour Court in Gqeberha has granted four lecturers, who are foreign nationals, an interdict to set aside their dismissals by the Port Elizabeth TVET College’s Iqhayiya Campus.
In the written ruling on Tuesday, the College was ordered to appear before the Court on 22 February “to show cause why a final order should not be granted” to compel the college to comply with the Labour Relations Act.
The court granted the interdict pending the outcome of the hearing.
GroundUp spoke to the lecturers on Monday before the ruling. Three are holders of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) and one other is Rwandan and has an asylum permit. Three have been employed at the college since 2014 and one since 2015, in the civil engineering faculty. The lecturers have asked that their identities not be published.
The lecturers were each sent a letter dated 12 January 2023 and signed by acting principal Jessie Figg and her deputy, D Baartzes, which stated, “It is with regret that we have to inform you that your employment with Port Elizabeth TVET College will be discontinued effective from 1 February 2023.”
The letter stated that their dismissal was in terms of legislation including the Public Service Act, the Department of Public Service and Administration Policy on the utilisation of foreign nationals; the Immigration Act; and the Critical Skills List Compliance gazetted in February 2022.
The lecturers were instructed to return any property owned by the college without delay.
“I was shocked and taken aback,” one of the lecturers told GroundUp. “I only learnt about it when I was in Zimbabwe visiting my family during the festive season. I’m the only breadwinner providing for many people who are desperate back home.”
Human rights lawyer Simba Chitando said that the college had not followed proper procedure when dismissing the lecturers.
“This smacks of systematic institutional xenophobia targeting mostly Zimbabwean nationals in South Africa and is without doubt a gross human rights violation that deserves judicial scrutiny,” he said.
Sangolinye Ngqungwana, a lecturer at the same college and shop steward for the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW), accused the college of targeting immigrant lecturers.
“This incident is completely unlawful because these lecturers have been employed here for years. This is very xenophobic.”
Emails and WhatsApp messages sent by Groundup to the college’s acting principal on 16 and 19 January, and again on Tuesday, 31 January after the ruling, all went unanswered. We also contacted the Department of Higher Education and Technology spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, who had not responded by the time of publication.