Department of Basic Education disciplinary inquiry finds school caretaker guilty of sexually assaulting two learners and dismisses him with immediate effect
2 August 2022, Johannesburg — SECTION27 welcomes the findings of a disciplinary inquiry held by the North West Provincial Department of Education, to immediately dismiss a school caretaker after being found guilty of sexual assault. The incidents involved siblings, both minor learners, who were sexually assaulted by the school caretaker in different incidents beginning in 2015. After a failure by the prinicipal and school governing body to act against the care taker, it is alleged that the perpetrator sexually assaulted the learners’ sibling in 2017. Sexual assault of learners by educators and school officials is a widespread scourge in South Africa, and the findings of this disciplinary inquiry offer some justice to the affected learners who attended this primary school in the North West province.
While SECTION27 welcomes and even celebrates this outcome, it is important to note that the journey to justice took 7 long years. This reflects the systemic failures within education and the justice system to hold perpetrators accountable, allowing them to continue violating more learners. After several failed attempts to get the School Governing Body (SGB), the North West Department of Education and South African Police Service (SAPS) to act, SECTION27 approached the court for an order directing them to act.
The findings in the Disciplinary Committee hearings are the culmination of the Provicial Education Department’s statutory duties to investigate allegations of sexual assault and take action against accused perpetrators. The perpetrator in this case was a school caretaker at the time and has been found guilty of raping a female minor learner in 2015, and sexually assaulting that learner’s sister in 2017. The perpetrator pleaded not guilty on both charges of rape and sexual assault, but the disciplinary panel found him guilty after reviewing evidence provided by the survivor and their mother. Particularly relevant to this case was the caretaker’s role and position of authority at the school, with the chairperson of the disciplinary enquiry, Mr Phillip Hozo, remarking in his report:
“in the education sector… the in loco parentis [in the place of a parent] principle reigns supreme… Schools are generally regarded as a “safe haven” for children. Therefore, schools are obliged to must ensure that they address the problem of sexual abuse, harassment and related matters in light of legislative and policy measures.”
In this case however, the parents of the learners reported the rape of their child to the school principal, but the perpetrator was not disciplined or suspended. For years, no action was taken against the perpetrator, who continued to be employed by the School Governing Body (SGB) at the school and therefore continued to pose a risk to other learners. Because of inaction from the school leadership and education authorities. The perpetrator was suspended six years after the original incident, only as a result of legal action instituted by SECTION27. This is despite the fact that the 2019 Protocol for the Management and Reporting of Sexual Abuse and Harassment in Schools states that school officials have a duty to report, investigate and take action against accused parties in any suspected incident of sexual abuse or harassment immediately.
The disciplinary process only started after SECTION27 instituted litigation representing the Teddy Bear Clinic, which is an organisation that assists children that have experienced sexual abuse as well as the parents of the two minor learners and obtained an order on the unopposed roll from the High Court of South Africa (North West Division, Mafikeng). It was ordered that the education authorities were ‘in breach’ of their constitutional, statutory and common law duties to investigate cases of sexual assault and take appropriate action.
The disciplinary hearing was held on 22 June 2022 and during the proceedings, there was testimony alleging that other young girls were raped during the period in which we attempted to hold the perpetrator accountable. The survivors of sexual assault in this case have been failed repeatedly by both the education authorities and the criminal justice system. Only through dogged determination on the part of the survivors and their family, as well as consistent monitoring and legal support from SECTION27, has this case seen any movement.
While the caretaker has now been dismissed, SECTION27 urges education authorities to place his name on the Sex Offenders’ Register so that he is never in a position to work in environments with children or other vulnerable groups ever again. We call on the Department of Basic Education, School governing bodies and the South African Police Service to treat these cases with the importance it deserves. We also thank the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children for their support to the family in this matter.
European Union funding supports SECTION27’s work on education rights issues.
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