The safety of school children in South Africa is again in the spotlight following two widely-reported cases of sexual misconduct in the Northern Cape and Gauteng provinces.
A trainee school teacher in Orania, a white-only town in the Northern Cape, was arrested for allegedly having sex with a minor.
The news was confirmed by the school — Volkskool Orania — as well as a police spokesperson, who confirmed the teacher was arrested in connection with the crime.
Chairperson of the board of the Volkskool Orania, Carel Boshoff, told journalists: “The principal of Volkskool Orania, Anje Boshoff, became aware of the allegations on Sept. 16 when members of the SAPS's Child Protection Unit visited the school to investigate a case of child molestation against a student teacher.”
Boshoff also said the teacher had been suspended, and told not to return to school or contact any of the students.
Boshoff said: “We would like to emphasise that Orania's community institutions and Volkskool in particular responded to the matter as quickly as possible and are giving all possible assistance to the investigation.”
Meanwhile in Gauteng, a report by investigative TV show Carte Blanche exposed what learners and some teachers call a culture of sexual grooming and assault at the Tebogo Kgologobe Arts Academy in Centurion.
The report interviewed several learners off-camera about their experiences at the boarding school — including allegations of being groomed by members of staff.
A former teacher, Jennifer Notoane, also spoke on record about the disturbing behaviour she observed, including a male teacher touching a student inappropriately.
She said on 702 talk radio : “How is this normal? How is this okay? Because where I come from, a teacher and a student are not allowed to have physical contact.”
“When we were introduced to the school, me and two other teachers who were new, we were told that this is a hugging school and that it's very normal for teachers to be physical with the students,” she continued.
Panyaza Lesufi, Gauteng’s member of the executive council (MEC) for education, told 702 that the province had decided to shut down the school; while it’s principal, Tebogo Kgologobe, told Carte Blanche that she will work with the law to investigate the allegations.
Violence is an on-going social issue in South Africa, including its schools.
A task group set up by the Department of Education to investigate sexual abuse in schools found 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”.
It’s not just sexual violence that’s a problem, either. A learner at Eastwood secondary high school in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, was stabbed to death and five others hospitalised on Oct. 10.
The Department of Basic Education in KwaZulu-Natal confirmed the incident but said at the time that details are still unclear.
The deceased learner’s mother, Natalie Fynn, told journalists that her son, Hershel Fynn, was stabbed while trying to protect a female learner — who was reportedly being attacked as part of an apparent year-end tradition by students in the final year of their schooling.
The tradition is reportedly known as “bombing” and involves intentionally vandalising school property by matriculants to mark the end of their school careers.
In August, a learner at Cloetesville High School in Stellenbosch, Western Cape, was suspended after allegedly stabbing another pupil in the face. He also had wounds on his back, according to ER24 spokesperson Russel Meiring.
Both incidents comes just seven months after the South African Government News Agency called the country’s schools "death traps” — while cabinet also released a statement noting the prevalence of all types of violence in schools.
“Our children need safe environments of learning and we call on learners, educators, parents, and guardians to work together to protect our children socially, physically, and emotionally,” the cabinet said in a statement in February this year.
The statement added: “Cabinet makes a special appeal to school governing bodies to assess the existing infrastructure of their schools to ensure that school buildings are safe, regularly maintained, and conducive to learning.”