Unclear how many teachers physically, sexually abuse pupils

Msindisi Fengu

South Africa’s regulatory body for teachers will meet the heads of all provincial education departments next week to beg them to report those who beat or have sex with their pupils.
The SA Council for Educators (Sace) admits that teachers who are fired for sexual misconduct often simply resurface in other provinces, where they continue sexually abusing pupils.Sace spokesperson Themba Ndhlovu said officials had already met department of basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli to discuss why provinces were not reporting misconduct cases.

There is a draft memorandum of understanding to be signed with provinces to ensure all cases against teachers are reported to Sace.

Ndhlovu said that, in some cases, education regional offices or whistle-blowers were the ones reporting cases to them. He said Sace had to send a team to the Northern Cape to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct involving teachers at school in Kuruman. Another team was dispatched to a school in KwaZulu-Natal, where a principal and a teacher allegedly gang-raped a schoolgirl.

“All those cases have been picked up by us from the media. We’ve already investigated. I’m aware that there will be action taken against those teachers involved,” he said.

Ndhlovu said there had been cases were statistics provided by provincial education departments did not correspond with those Sace had compiled. In addition, there was no coordination between reports from regional, district and provincial education departments.

The failure to report misconduct to Sace resulted in fired teachers finding work elsewhere.

“Some of these teachers go to independent schools. That is why we sought a legal opinion on how we inform society that a teacher has been fired for abuse. The legal opinion says we need to review our legislation because it is silent on disclosure.”

The sex offenders’ registry compiled by the justice department only keeps records of the names of teachers who were found guilty in court, not those disciplined for misconduct internally.

Sexual misconduct cases were supposed to be reported to Sace, the police and the department. However, Ndhlovu said they had had situations in which parents did not want their children to testify against a teacher, and they suspected that those families had been paid to keep quiet.

Basil Manuel, president of teachers’ union Naptosa, said they had picked up that cases were not being reported to Sace.

How many teachers abuse their pupils?

The latest figures, released by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga in Parliament, show an increase of reported cases of sex abuse by teachers, as well as physical assault, fraud, theft and other financial misconduct between the 2011 and 2016 financial years.

On Friday, the chairperson of Parliament’s basic education portfolio committee, Nomalungelo Gina, told City Press that education officials and police had been called to appear before the committee on October 12 to account for the increase in reported incidents in schools.

“We believe this accounting session by the two departments will continue to elevate discussions around this matter. It requires continuous, in-depth, solution-oriented examination by society and government departments,” Gina said.

She said many possible explanations had been provided regarding these cases, including the violent nature of South African society, eroding family and social values, provocation by either pupils or teachers and a lack of alternatives to corporal punishment.

“However, when you consider some of the cases of abuse that have gone viral on social media, you question the psychological state of the perpetrators, who use excessive violence and perpetrate immoral abuse,” Gina said.

While Sace’s figures are woefully incomplete, the most recent study conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) found that one in five pupils are exposed to sexual and physical violence in schools.

The study, conducted in 2012, found that violence was in some cases caused by vulnerable pupils from unstable families. Most of the victims were girls.

CJCP researcher Joanne Phyfer said many schools that were unsafe for girls were poorly managed and existing policies were not being implemented.

She said that, in some instances, there were poor or restrictive reporting systems and action was not taken against perpetrators.

Public Service Accountability Monitor education expert Siyabulela Fobosi said a new relationship between teachers, pupils and society was required.

Fobosi said education was being undermined by teachers’ sexual misconduct.

“Such behaviour by the teachers disrespects the student-teacher-society relationship. The classroom should be a safe place for learning – free of any form of violence and criminal activity.”

Prompt, punitive action should be taken against teachers found guilty of sexual misconduct or of assaulting pupils.

“The department must commission a full analysis of the sexual misconduct of teachers, as well as a decisive national action plan to address the larger issues of school violence and gender-based abuse,” Fobosi said.

The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union said it had represented members in sexual misconduct cases and, in some of these, the members were dismissed for sexual offences.

Spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said there had been cases involving their members in the Free State this year. She could not divulge any details.

Cembi said that, at times, their members did not report their offences, sought legal advice or resigned.

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