Principal mired in graft charge

A piece of land belonging to the Trafalgar High School was allegedly used as a dumping ground.

The principal of Trafalgar High School in Zonnebloem is in hot water after being accused of pocketing large sums of money to let a construction company use his school as a dumping ground.

Nadeem Hendricks, along with another staff member, Sulaiman Kamaar, was summonsed to appear in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Friday June 17. They have been charged with fraud and illegal dumping at the school.

However, Mr Hendricks has vowed to clear his name. Speaking through his lawyers, he protested his innocence and said all money received for the use of the land had been deposited into the school account.

His attorney, Ihsaan Higgins, said Trafalgar High School had entered into a valid lease agreement for the land, which formed part of the school grounds.

He said Mr Hendricks had acted on the authority of the school governing body, and the portion of school property was to have been used by the construction company in question as a temporary site office with the rental paid into the school account.

“There are audited records of the funds going into the school account and such funds were used for the normal running of the school. The allegations are without legal or intellectual substance. Mr Hendricks and another staff member, Sulaiman Kamaar, are being charged for contraventions of the National Environmental Management Waste Act 59 of 2008. Neither Mr Hendricks nor Mr Kamaar contravened any provisions of the act. However, the truth shall prevail in court,” Mr Higgins said.

The provincial Environmental Management Inspectorate, also known as the Green Scorpions, has been investigating the matter since 2012 after initially receiving complaints about illegal dumping at the school.

Dr Eshaam Palmer, the province’s director of environmental compliance and enforcement, confirmed that Mr Hendricks had been charged with allowing a significant amount of rubble to be dumped on the school’s premises as well as fraud for allegedly accepting R160 000 in payment for that.

“In this latest case, the principal and one co-accused, allegedly negotiated with a construction company to lease a portion of the school property to dispose of and store large volumes of demolition waste during the company’s construction phase on land opposite the school. The company allegedly paid the principal an amount of R120 000 for using the portion of the land for dumping,” he said.

A further R40 000 is believed to have been paid later on.

Dr Palmer said there had been several illegal dumping cases at schools in the province, and the Green Scorpions had to take action because the dumped material constituted significant harm to the environment and posed a danger to pupils.

“Unlike other cases, in this particular case, the alleged offender failed to comply with a compliance notice issued by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning. Due to this failure, the matter was referred to the Department’s Criminal Investigations Unit to institute criminal action,” Dr Palmer said.

News about the matter went viral on social media, with many expressing their shock and some later retracting their comments.

The lawyers representing both Mr Hendricks and Mr Kamaar said the news had had a devastating effect on the lives of their clients.

“The allegations had dire consequences for our clients and their loved ones. The allegations caused major reputational damage. The emotional trauma for all concerned is devastating. The most damaging incorrect statement is the fraud allegation. There has been no fraud and the financial records will prove same,” Mr Higgins said.

When the Atlantic Sun asked to view the school’s financial records, Mr Higgins replied: “The audited accounts of the school are available. However, that we will produced at court.”

On Friday June 24, at the Trafalgar High School hall, Mr Hendricks addressed the public in a special media conference that was arranged to clear the air.

“After reports surfaced about this case, we felt that we needed to arrange this media briefing in order to tell our side of the story,” Mr Higgins said.

Anton Bredell, the MEC for Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, applauded the efforts of the Green Scorpions team, saying: “The Green Scorpions are not always popular, but they are increasingly vital given the proliferation of environmental challenges in South Africa. It’s crucial to get communities to co-operate and work with the authorities. At the end of the day it’s to everyone’s benefit to protect our environment as best we can.”

Mr Bredell said the sentences handed down by courts for environmental crimes were increasingly reflecting the serious nature of the crimes.

“The penalties applicable to dumping amounts to a maximum of R10 million and/or 10 years imprisonment per charge,” Mr Bredell said.

Dr Palmer also explained that The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) was also alerted and a forensic investigation was conducted by an independent auditing company following which, fraud charges were added to the illegal dumping charges by the National Prosecuting Authority.

Spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority, Eric Ntabazalila, said: “The accused has been charged with offences under the National Environmental Management: Waste Act no 59 of 2008 as well as fraud. The accused was summonsed to appear in court. On Friday June 17.” He said the case had been postponed to Thursday and Friday July 21 and 22 “for plea and trial”.

Mr Hendricks’s attorney maintained that his client had acted lawfully while raising much-needed funds for the school.

“The entire distasteful process with a massive utilisation of state resources has a distinct flavour of a political and/or personal agenda. We are ready to go to trial on this matter. We managed to get an early date. It has been set down for plea and trial,” Mr Higgins said.

WCED spokesman Paddy Atttwell, initially refused to answer the Atlantic Sun’s questions, saying the matter was sub judice.

“The department will study the judgment carefully and will take an informed decision on the way forward, with colleagues in other departments, including Environmental Affairs, depending on the outcome of the case,” Mr Attwell said.

Mr Hendricks said he was still serving as the school’s principal, with no action having being taken by the WCED as yet.

Millicent Merton, of the WCED’s communications directorate, said: “Due to the sensitive nature of this matter, the WCED decided to hold it in abeyance while the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) finalise their criminal process.”

She added that the WCED is working with the role-players in a “supportive and collaborative” role to sustain the strongest possible case.

“The WCED has a duty to consider the interests of all parties concerned. The WCED did not wish to jeopardise the matter premised on the DEADP and NPA process,” Ms Merton said.

When asked what prevented the WCED from acting on this matter and why an official statement was not released by the WCED, Ms Merton said: “Each case is assessed on its own merits and as this matter is being dealt with by the above mentioned role-players in terms of the criminal prescripts (inter alia, the Criminal Procedure Act and the law of evidence), the WCED decided not to engage or charge the employee until the criminal matter has attained finality.”