Arrest of a Johannesburg Teacher Shines Spotlight on ‘Pandemic’ of Sexual Violence in South Africa’s Schools
The teacher will appear in court next month. But the issue is so much bigger than one case.
A 33-year-old Johannesburg teacher has been arrested this week following allegations of sexual assault — and the case is casting a light on the “pandemic” of sexual violence in South African schools.
The teacher, who cannot be named, is reported to have sexually assaulted at least two learners at Bryanston High School between 2017 and 2018.
His arrest comes after a 17-year-old pupil at the school and her mother opened a sexual offences case. He has also been suspended from his job pending investigations, and will appear in court on March 12 over the allegations.
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South Africa has high incidents of gender-based and sexual violence, and in schools it has become pervasive.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigated sexual violence in South African schools in 2001, and published a 138-page report based on extensive interviews with victims, their parents, teachers, and school administrators in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, and the Western Cape.
It documented how girls had been raped, sexually abused, sexually harassed, and assaulted at school by their male classmates and even by their teachers.
The report highlighted that, because sexual violence is under-reported, it’s difficult to say exactly how many girls and young women had been raped or assaulted at school. It estimated, however, that the number was in the “thousands.”
According to the South African department of education, in a report investigating sexual abuse in schools, what is clear is that “sexual abuse has been as much a constant feature of South African schools as it has been of society in general. Many of our schools have become violent and unsafe environments, particularly for the girl-child.”
While the HRW report dates back nearly two decades, the situation appears to have changed very little for many learners across South Africa. Recent cases include the rape of more than 87 primary school learners in 2017 by a security guard at a school in Soweto.
In the same year, two six-year-old girls were raped by five general workers at the Zamukhanyo Primary School in Etwatwa in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.
Last year, former Parktown Boys High School water polo coach, Collan Rex, was found guilty of 12 assault and 144 sexual assault charges involving 12 boys.
When the suspended Bryanston High School teacher appears in court in March, it will be against backdrop of what South African human rights organisation, Section 27, has rightfully called a “pandemic.”
South Africa is failing its most vulnerable people by not turning the numerous reports by civil organisations and the department of basic education, and parliamentary discussions about sexual violence in schools into concrete action.
As HRW concluded: “Sexual violence and harassment in South African schools erect a discriminatory barrier for young women and girls seeking an education. As a result, the government's failure to protect girl children and respond effectively to violence violates not only their bodily integrity but also their right to education.”