Anger, defiance in court

2016-07-05 13:10
Protesters gathered near the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court yesterday. They are opposed to bail being granted to a former school guidance counsellor charged with the rape of young pupils.

Protesters gathered near the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court yesterday. They are opposed to bail being granted to a former school guidance counsellor charged with the rape of young pupils. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - A tangible atmosphere of anger, sadness and tension gripped the magistrate’s court on Monday as a former school guidance counsellor charged with rape and sexual abuse of four primary school pupils applied for bail.

The man currently faces two charges of rape and two of sexual assault; the fourth count of sexual assault involving a 10-year-old boy was only added to the charge sheet yesterday.

While protesters outside the courthouse and the alleged victims’ relatives and friends made no secret of their strong opposition to the man’s release on bail, the counsellor’s lawyer, Siva Chetty, described him as a “destroyed man” by virtue of the as yet untested charges, and said he is entitled to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The counsellor said in an affidavit he had excelled both academically and as a sportsman, and that he vehemently denies the allegations against him, which he regards as “malicious and fabricated”.

His affidavit states he obtained six As and was a prefect in matric, received colours for athletics, and “numerous sports and academic awards”.

He is a qualified teacher who graduated from UKZN and has a Master’s degree in psychology.

He was a youth leader at a church, and is a well-known member of the cycling fraternity who also coaches mountain bike and track racing.

State prosecutor Thandeka Mkhize told the court that the state has a strong case against the man, based on statements by the victims to police in which they named the counsellor as their abuser, and psychologists’ reports and medical evidence that supports the rape allegations.

Magistrate M. Boikhutso will give a ruling on bail on July 18.

A spontaneous burst of applause broke out in the public gallery as relatives of the victims rejoiced that the counsellor would stay in jail until then, but they earned themselves a sharp rebuke from the magistrate.

“Demonstrate your frustrations or your happiness outside court, not when we are in session,” she said.

From early yesterday morning and throughout the proceedings, a large crowd of protesters gathered outside the Bessie Head Library, toyi-toyiing, singing, holding up anti-rape and anti-sexual abuse placards, and urging the court to deny the counsellor bail.

Chetty, who took over the defence from attorney Alistair Janssens, who withdrew citing a “conflict of interests”, urged the magistrate not to be swayed by public opinion, including the presence of KZN Education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwane in the gallery.

Earlier, the court had noted the MEC’s interest in the case and his request to take part in the proceedings as a “friend of the court”.

Dlungwane told journalists later that he was there to support the parents and pupils of the school. He said the department believes the protection of school children is a priority.

He confirmed he would meet with the school management this week, as well as with the parents.

In his affidavit in support of his bail application, the former school counsellor said he believes that he will be able to demonstrate at his trial that he has been falsely accused, and that there is “no substance to any allegations against me”.

“Indeed I ought not to have been arrested in the first place,” he said.

The former counsellor said he had counselled the children concerned in his professional capacity, and after they were referred to him by other educators.

The man said he has no previous convictions or pending cases, and has never before appeared in court as an accused person. “I am a law-abiding and non-violent person,” he said.

He said he was “amazed” by allegations that were published that he intended to “kill people”.

“I have never mentioned this. I have no such intention,” he said in an apparent reference to an allegation at the previous hearing that he had uttered threats to the alleged victims, saying he would kill their parents if they spoke out about the alleged abuse.

As far as the safety of the children was concerned, the man said he had no intention of interfering with them and they were in the custody of their parents in any event, and he would not go near them.

Chetty said this was even more so because the man was summarily fired from his job. This (his dismissal) was another matter that would be “dealt with” in future.

In his affidavit opposing bail, the investigating officer, Neil Sivenarain, said the former counsellor should not get bail because the evidence against him shows a “consistent pattern”.

He said the victims all know the man and named him as the perpetrator. Supporting their statements were psychologists’ reports and medical evidence.

He said he feared for the safety of the witnesses if the man was granted bail and that he would interfere with them and the investigation.

Sivenarain said there were currently two other cases opened and under investigation, and three “inquiries” taking place regarding cases that had not yet been registered.

He said that as far as the Health Professions Council of SA was concerned, his information was that the man’s registration was “suspended”.

IN the court foyer the grandfather of a five-year-old boy who made allegations of sexual abuse following the man’s arrest, was angry that some of the former counsellor’s teacher colleagues were at court supporting of him.

“They [the teachers] are demonising us parents instead of thinking about our children who are in their care.

“They might be friends of his but they should let the law take its course. This makes me feel the entire school is tainted. We trust these people with the care of our children,” he said

Amil Umraw reports that the Health Professions Council of SA confirmed that the counsellor concerned was registered with the HPCSA before 2013, but was suspended in October that year for not paying his fees.

Acting chief operating officer Dr Munyadziwa Kwinda said the man was registered as an “intern psychologist” prior to 2013. His registration was suspended on October 26, 2013 due to failure to pay his annual fee. He said this meant the counsellor was supposed to do a one-year internship and “complete his Master’s if he has not already”, and then apply to write the HPCSA board exam to register as a qualified counselling psychologist to be able to practise independently.

Asked if one was allowed to practise as a school guidance counsellor if not registered with the council, the answer was: “No, you must be registered to practise. You can be registered as a counsellor or counselling psychologist or educational psychologist”.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  court  |  sexual abuse

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