Parents’ anger at school sex case

2016-07-22 12:22
Child abuse. (iStock)

Child abuse. (iStock)

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Pietermaritzburg - Hurt, deep-seated anger, disbelief and a sense of utter betrayal.

These were some of the raw emotions that played out among parents at a Pietermaritzburg primary school on Wednesday night at a meeting to discuss the horror of the allegations of rape and sexual abuse allegedly meted out by the school’s counsellor on little boys in his care.

The meeting erupted when parents, seething with anger, demanded answers to allegations of sexual abuse.

Unable to hold back their tears, some of the parents demanded that the teachers who allegedly stood in court supporting the school’s counsellor — who stands accused of two cases of rape and two of sexual assault thus far — be axed.

Parents flung allegations at the School Governing Body (SGB), voicing their concerns that some teachers have been manipulating pupils into believing the “monster” counsellor is innocent.

The uproar broke out during a meeting called by the SGB on Wednesday evening to address all the school’s parents, almost a month after the counsellor was arrested.

Various meetings have already been held with parents whose children were directly affected.

The SGB chairperson barely made it through his opening speech when fuming parents bombarded him and his panel with insults, insisting that the principal, who was sitting at the corner of the stage, should come forward and address them.

With the panel dodging their questions, providing half answers and saying the investigation was still underway, the red-faced parents became frenzied, hurling insults, stamping their feet and waving their hands threateningly — all while tears streamed down some of their faces.

“My son was with that man for four years. You do not even know what he [the counsellor] did to my son. Don’t tell me to ask my son what happened, he does not talk anymore,” one parent said after the SGB pleaded for parents to consult their children.

“My son’s life is ruined. He was raped over and over again.”

Another parent said three of her young sons were allegedly raped by the counsellor.

“They have such severe anal damage. One was raped three, four, five times a week,” the woman screamed.

That is when the chant, “We want [the principal],” echoed through the packed hall.

The emotions grew so rampant that a feud broke out between two mothers, with one slapping the other before they took their tussle outside. It is unknown what they were arguing about.

Police were eventually called in to calm the meeting.

Although the parents disagreed with how the school managed the situation, they were most outraged by the fact that some teachers allegedly showed support for the counsellor in court and, according to them, at school.

The parents alleged their children were being “manipulated” by teachers into thinking the counsellor was “a good man”. They called for all those who showed support to be suspended immediately.

“How can we trust that our children are safe knowing they are being taught and influenced by teachers who support this man and condone his behaviour?” shouted one of the parents.

Another parent alleged some teachers “collapsed” in front of pupils when news broke that the counsellor was denied bail on Monday.

“Tell us to our face that you support this man. Let us see who you are,” exclaimed another parent.

Eventually, one parent took to the stage, standing right alongside the SGB deputy chairman, staring at him directly in the eye until he handed over the microphone.

The man then named four teachers believed to have supported the counsellor in court. This news was met with devastated gasps from his audience.

In response, the SGB chairperson told parents they were “unhappy” with the teachers. “We are shocked and deeply concerned that incidents of such a nature have taken place right here at this school. We called a meeting and I even pleaded with teachers to remain neutral during the court proceedings,” the chairperson said.

The counsellor was arrested on June 24 after allegations surfaced of him raping a seven-year-old pupil. About a dozen pupils then came forward with similar allegations and a Pietermaritzburg magistrate on Monday denied the 31-year-old counsellor bail.

It has since been revealed that the counsellor was employed by the SGB without proper background checks being followed. The Witness confirmed he was not registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) at the time he was employed.

Parents at the meeting demanded further action be taken to ensure the safety of their children.

They questioned the authenticity of the school’s record of children who were counselled by the man and demanded the school contact each parent whose child came into contact with him.

The school principal undertook to contact each parent in the next week.

With the Department of Education and the SGB conducting their own investigations, it was suggested that a parent representative also be included in the investigations to ensure a balanced outcome and assist as a medium between the parties.

Because the counsellor also acted as the school’s photographer, parents also demanded all photographic material be analysed. They also raised concerns as to whether the counsellor travelled on overnight excursions with the pupils who were not in counselling sessions.

One parent demanded a private security company be employed to guard the school and strictly monitor each person entering the premises. The principal told parents to e-mail their concerns to the school, which he said would be forwarded to the investigation team.

However, most concerns raised by parents appeared to be dodged and the SGB eventually concluded the meeting after jotting down remarks from the irate parents as they left the hall.

• kailene.pillay@witness.co.za;
amil.umraw@witness.co.za

THE SCHOOL principal, after threats from furious parents, eventually took the stage to explain his actions.

The parents were adamant that they wanted to hear from the principal himself, not the SGB and Department of Education. They wanted him to account for the manner in which the situation was handled.

After silently watching the proceedings with his legs crossed at the corner of the stage, sometimes shaking his head at the parents’ claims, the principal walked up to the podium in front of a livid audience who quietened down to hear his address.

The principal claimed no “red flags were raised” initially and that he was “hit from the back” when the counsellor was arrested.

“I love this school and I love the children at this school. If I had known, I would have acted. I swear to you I did not know,” the principal said.

Explaining the course of events, the principal said he was first approached by a parent on June 3 who was concerned about the physical games being played during the counselling sessions with her seven-year-old son.

The principal said he immediately approached the counsellor, advising him to stop the games and provide a detailed feedback report on the sessions with the child.

A week later, the principal said he met again with the same parent and they discussed the counsellor’s report. The principal said the parent did not want their child to continue counselling and he presumed everything was then “okay”.

However, on June 20, the principal said he heard an “unsubstantiated story” that the parent had opened a case with the police and he immediately contacted the SGB, who took a decision to suspend the counsellor pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

When more parents came forward, the principal said he took steps to dismiss the counsellor.

The principal was then struck with a barrage of questions.

Explaining why no one suspected the counsellor, the principal said the counsellor’s rooms were situated alongside a classroom and his curtains remained closed to prevent other pupils from peeping in.

Although showing empathy, the principal did not apologise for what happened at his school. When the principal suddenly left the podium, at least half of the parents stormed out.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  school counsellor  |  sexual abuse

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