Battle for Bishops: old boys at war as 'usurpers' try to take over

30 July 2019 - 14:18 By Dan Meyer
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A battle is brewing for the "soul" of Bishops Diocesan College.
A battle is brewing for the "soul" of Bishops Diocesan College.
Image: Facebook/Bishops Diocesan College

Bishops, the prestigious private boys' school in Cape Town, is embroiled in a fractious tug-of-war over its Old Diocesans Union (ODU).

Allegations of bullying and intimidation are being hurled between members of the current administration and a group of would-be usurpers referred to as “WP10”.

WP10 consists of several prominent Bishops alumni, including  Stormers head coach John Dobson. 

Vice-chairman Anton Taylor posted an emotional plea on Facebook to his former peers and board members to support the current administration at a special general meeting on Thursday.

A vote of no confidence in Taylor’s administration will be top of the agenda.

WP van Zyl, the former executive manager of the Old Diocesans Union.
WP van Zyl, the former executive manager of the Old Diocesans Union.
Image: LinkedIn/WP van Zyl

The motion of no confidence was put forward in response to what the WP10 committee deemed to be the "unfair" dismissal of ODU executive manager Dr WP Van Zyl, a dentist and former head boy. 

Following the dismissal of Van Zyl, who Taylor referred to as "unfit to do the work required of his role", a group of 10 disgruntled members formed the WP10 faction, aiming to remove the ODU administration.

"Should the motion pass, the entire committee, our patron, and our staff, will depart and the union will completely collapse," Taylor wrote.

"I cannot stress how catastrophic and far-reaching the effects will be. Crucial functions will cease, including the administration of scholarships and bursaries. Decades of work towards the creation of an inclusive union will be undone. Bishops itself as a school will be divided and broken. The WP10 know this. They do not care."

Van Zyl’s LinkedIn biography still lists him as executive manager. References include a stellar review of his efforts on the committee by former ODU chair Bruce Jack.

"Anyone who has had contact with the Mitre Team of Dr WP van Zyl and Nicole du Rand [ODU administrator] over the past 12 months will attest to the superhuman efforts and inspiring energy that drive this machine," Jack wrote in the 2018 chairman's annual report.

Old Diocesans Union chairman Adam Pike
Old Diocesans Union chairman Adam Pike
Image: Old Diocesans Union

Jack was subsequently replaced by the current chairman, attorney Adam Pike, whom Taylor alleges is at the centre of the dispute.

"They have employed what I can only describe as the most appalling programme of harassment and abuse I have ever had the misfortune of experiencing," he wrote. "A key tactic of theirs has been to single out and enforce the most extreme pressures on individual members of the committee, apparently in the hope that they break down and turn against our chairman."

In a recent letter to the ODU, the WP10 group said dismissing Van Zyl went against the values of the school. 

"We are of the view that: the ODU committee and chair have acted contrary to Bishops’ values and the spirit of fair play in their strategic oversight of the secretariat, culminating in WP van Zyl signing a separation agreement; and their conduct has proven divisive and displayed a failure of leadership. We have therefore lost confidence in the current ODU committee and chair."

Taylor charged that he and the committee were ordered by WP10 to remove Pike earlier this year. 

"I was ordered by the WP10 to remove the incredibly dedicated chairman of a pro bono committee without process or evidence, purely because a small group of men said so," he wrote. "My committee and I have not accepted this."

Old Diocesans Union vice-chairman Anton Taylor
Old Diocesans Union vice-chairman Anton Taylor
Image: Facebook/Anton Taylor

Taylor said that while their constitution did not allow for proxy voting, he was inviting alumni to come to the SGM and support the current board. 

"On Thursday at 6pm we are given the opportunity to decide upon the soul of Bishops," he wrote. 

"What type of community do we want to be? Do we want to support a culture where things are decided upon by who is the nastiest, rather than by morality and logic? We must finally decide upon the true purpose of the unimaginable privilege gifted to Bishops boys: is it so that we may create a better world?

"Or is it provided so that we might crush those less privileged than ourselves, with no consequence to ourselves; a weapon delivered to destroy those whom we hate and those who have no voices."

A representative from the WP10 group said the issue would be dealt with internally.

"In the best interests of the school and all involved, this is an internal old boys' union matter. We therefore have no comment."

Bishops principal Guy Pearson said the special general meeting of the ODU had been called in terms of the union's constitution.

"As the date for the special general meeting approaches emotions have increased and we have seen this playing out on social media," he said. "As a school we are saddened to see divisions within our community of 7,000 old boys, but we also recognise that in a large community there will, from time to time, be differences of opinion and clashes of personalities.

"We urge all ODs involved with this disagreement to act with integrity and mutual respect and we look forward to the matter being finalised so that the ODU can refocus on its core mission of serving its members."

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