Ferial Haffajee

A parallel world for Girl, 15

2010-11-22 11:15

Ferial Haffajee sketches out a different week, a different life, for Girl, 15, of Jules High. She first came to attention for alleging that she had been gang-raped at the Johannesburg school. Then she was at the centre of a storm this week as the National Prosecuting Authority decided to charge her and two teenaged boys under the Sexual Offences Act for having under-age sex.

It’s exams and Girl, 15, of Jules High is on her way to school in a taxi. There’s no exam that day but the teachers have arranged extra lessons for the following week’s rigours. Before she started high school Girl, 15, had researched good schools.

Her family, like many others in Chiawelo, wanted to school her outside of the dysfunction of township schools and she chose Jules High as the best within the price range.

And it had been a good choice. The principal, Mr Van Vuuren, was dedicated to old school principles: on time, in class and relevant education for his young wards. He ran a tight ship where teachers supervised learners from the start of the school day until the very end.

There was no time for loitering as 2010 had been a disruptive year, what with the strike and with the long holidays occasioned by the Fifa World Cup. So the Jules High learners were in class, swotting over their books in the old-fashioned way. The teachers kept a professional distance from the learners but their curriculum was modified by modernity itself.

So, in Life Orientation there were open and spirited discussions on sex and sexuality. With the aid of the education department the school had learner material that taught these mature-beyond-their-years young teenagers about the 21st century birds and the bees, where waiting until you’re married (or at least deeply in love) is as out of fashion as first-version Nokia cellphones.

The teachers knew their young sheep were sexually active from a very young age and that they required realistic shepherding. So, they were taught about the unrealistic images from MTV, which often glorify gang-rape and early sexualisation.

They were taught to delay their first time and to see sex as an activity for a loving relationship. And with a platter of extramural activities, including at least six sports codes, the teachers exhausted the rampaging teen hormones to send the learners back in the taxi too tired for anything except supper and another set of revision, ready to conquer the exam and the world.

At home, Girl, 15, lives in a loving extended family with older and younger siblings as well as her gran and uncle. The family is not wealthy, but they are comfortable. At the Post Office, her gran had picked up literature on mobile phone literacy. Government was running a campaign that taught parents and care-givers how to monitor their children’s’ use of phones to ensure they were safe and not exposed to harmful images or porn that bounces through the ether on increased Broadband speeds.

The SABC runs excellent programmes for young people on sexuality and Girl, 15, knows her birds from her bees. She has decided to wait until she’s 18 to sleep with anybody and while peer pressure is consistent, she knows how to say no. Girl, 15, wants to graduate from Jules High and go to Wits University where she has dreams of becoming a doctor. With support from her family, from the government, her school and the public broadcaster, there is no reason to believe she won’t achieve her dreams.

Meanwhile, government had also seen research showing the average age of first sexual activity was getting younger and younger so it had amended the Sexual Offences Act, which incorrectly labelled underage sex as rape.

* This is an alternative story of what could have been for Girl, 15, of Jules High, who was raped by video and by the system in the past fortnight. She has missed her exams.

- Ferial Haffajee is editor of City Press.

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