Nuns guilty of assaults

2012-01-28 00:00

THREE nuns from the Anglican Community of Jesus’ Compassion convent in New Hanover have pleaded guilty to the common assault of four children in their care.

They were handed a suspended sentence.

A group of 10 nuns arrived at the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court yesterday in the company of their attorney Carl Johnson before the three accused appeared.

Mother superior Dumazile Elsie Manqele (64), sister Thokozile Zondo (38) and sister Thelma Ngobese (50) pleaded guilty, but maintained that they were only disciplining the children.

In her plea statement, Zondo said she was taking care of a girl in the convent in September last year. On the day in question she was discussing the issue of boyfriends, but the complainant became aggressive and she ended up beating her because this was against the rules of the convent.

Manqele pleaded guilty to beating a girl for losing her school shoes and socks. In August last year Manqele asked the child to polish her school shoes. However, the child subsequently told her that she had lost her school shoes and socks while playing in the playground.

It came to light that this was the third time she had lost her shoes. Manqele then hit the child by striking her with a polycop pipe (hose pipe) once under her feet.

In September, Manqele and another nun then beat another girl after she received information that she was in a relationship with a boy. The rules of the convent do not allow the girls to have boyfriends.

Sister Ngobese said she assaulted a girl who had been caught throwing her school lunch away each day for about a month.

The state prosecutor Pranisha Kasool proved no previous convictions against Zondo and Ngobese but proved one against Manqele of assault where she was fined R60 in 2003.

Magistrate Rian De Wet said the condition of the children and other evidence show that the children had not sustained injuries as a result of the assault.

The group of nuns who came to court to support the accused shed tears as the nuns were sentenced.

The magistrate sentenced Zondo to one year, Manqele to two years and Ngobese to 18 months’ imprisonment. The sentences are wholly suspended for five years on condition that they are not convicted of assault in that period. If they are, they will undergo imprisonment without the option of a fine.

The father of one of the girls who was assaulted was angry that his child was asked to give a statement without his being present.

“I didn’t persuade my child to press charges against the nuns who took care of her. I’m not happy with the way the police used my child to charge the nuns,” said the father.

The 17-year-old girl, who cannot be named, whose statement was used to charge the nuns said she is going back to the convent.

“That’s the home I’m used to and love,” she added.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant Joey Jeevan said the police must always have a guardian present when they take down a statement from a minor.

The nuns could not hold back their tears outside the courtroom as they hugged each other.

Sister Thandi Ntuli said they are now relieved that this is over.

“We’re just trying to help the poor of the community,” she insisted.

Bishop Rubin Phillip, when contacted by Weekend Witness yesterday, said: “We are relieved that the matter is over. It’s been stressful for the nuns.” He said they had learned a lot from the incident.

• mlondi.radebe@witness.co.za

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