Shock at sex offender

2016-03-11 10:15
A new lock on the gate at the Lexden Scout Camp in Athlone ensures that Benn Pieters cannot gain access to the hall he rented there

A new lock on the gate at the Lexden Scout Camp in Athlone ensures that Benn Pieters cannot gain access to the hall he rented there (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - Would a recovering alcoholic choose to work in a bottle store? Of course not. So why would a convicted sex offender who has been ordered not to work with children, work at a “school”?.

That was the essence of a comment by the parent of a child being taught at Tall Oaks Education facility in Athlone yesterday.

The man had just read the exposé of ­convicted sex offender Benn Pieters in ­yesterday’s Witness, which revealed he had been placed on the National Register of Sex Offenders and ordered not to work with ­children.

Pieters has been working full-time at the facility, which he now owns, for three years.

The shocked parent, who The Witness will not name to protect the identity of his son, had arrived at the facility early yesterday to get further clarity on the story.

Yesterday, Pieters did not pitch up at the “school” located at the Lexden Scout Hall, because he was told the previous evening that he was no longer allowed to use the scout premises, his keys were taken away from him, and the lock on the front gate had been changed.

The parent said his family had recently moved to the city and Pieters’s education facility had been recommended to him.

“We checked out the website and met with Pieters, and it seemed like the perfect arrangement for my son.”

He was told his child, who is under 18, would be supervised and given “support with tutorial service”. He was paying R1 500 per month.

He said there had been no indication of anything untoward. “He seemed likeable. But what he is doing is illegal. It’s the worst thing a parent can think of.”

He said none of the parents would have entrusted Pieters with their children’s care if they had known his background.

The parent added that Pieters had presented himself as a teacher, and they believed he was qualified as such. However, Pieters told The Witness he was not a qualified teacher when interviewed on Wednesday.

“Why present yourself as a teacher to vulnerable children?” asked the parent.

He added that his son had told him a few days ago that Pieters had spoken about moving the school from the scout hall in Hos­king Road in the plush suburb of Athlone.

The fuming parent said he would seek legal advice and send his child for counselling.

The man thanked The Witness for exposing Pieters.

Another parent said he was “very shocked” when he heard about Pieters’s past, as “no one was aware of this”.

He said the parents would meet last night to discuss the future as their children were now without a place to do their schooling.

He said there had been no indication that there were any problems.

“We should have been informed about this [Pieters’s conviction] prior to this ... The authorities should have monitored him. It should never have happened.”

He said his children had been tutored by Pieters since the beginning of last year.

Another parent was concerned that her family had paid the March school fees upfront. She had paid R1 250 each for two children.

However, another parent leapt to Pieters’s defence.

She said in an e-mail he had never purported to be a teacher.

“I know he has always said that he facilitates/oversees that the work is being done, as that is what he does. He is not allowed to open a cottage school or teach because he is not a teacher. He just runs a homeschool study group for parents who are not able to do it for themselves.

“Maybe some of the parents interpreted facilitator, as a teacher ... I would love to know who told you of this juicy story that got you your front page headline, and love to know why they are so dead set on destroying Benn and his family.”

The Witness called Pieters yesterday, but he declined to comment.

• newsed@witness.co.za

Pieters e-mailed a letter to parents, headed “Please Read with an open heart”, on Tuesday night.

The unedited text reads:

“Dear Parents

This is going to be one of the most difficult e-mail I have to write. Please read through it.

Some years ago I made a stupid mistake and paid dearly for it, and as a result of my actions nearly lost my entire family and was registered as a sex offender. I entered into a plea bargain with the state so that I could go home after nearly 18 months with out them.

I am making no excuses for what happened. As a registered offender I am not allowed to work with children under the age of 18 and have violated some conditions.

“Today there was a reporter from the Witness at school going to run a story on my status and she would probably like to include and draw in as many of you as she can, I ask please that you do not engage with her in any way.

“I am more than willing to talk to parents face to face over the next couple of days and will be as honest and open as possible. My phone will on and I will try and answer all calls. I am expecting a large number of calls over the next few days

Lexden was also approached by this reporter and I was asked to leave the premises Immediately.

I am really really sorry that I have put you as parents and guardians in such a position and ask that you don’t think less of me now that you know I have a horrible past.

Your sincerely Benn”

Jackie Branfield of child rights group Bobbi Bear said the fact that Pieters had defied a court order and operated within a kilometre of Townhill police station was appalling.

“That he had the gall and audacity to walk out of court with no jail time and a warning from the magistrate not to work with children, and thumb his nose at the magistrate and every mother and father in South Africa, is beyond me.”

She said “South Africa has failed its children” by not monitoring Pieters after his conviction.

“What would this look like on CNN? What would it say about South Africa? Every president always says ­women and children are a priority. Where’s the priority on this?

“I believe he should be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law.”

Asked which entity was responsible for monitoring sex offenders after their convictions, she said, “I have been trying to get that question answered for years. The police will tell you it’s the Department of Social Welfare. The Department of Social Welfare will tell you it’s the police. The Justice Department will tell you it’s the Department of Social Welfare and the police.”

No comment was received from the police or Social Welfare Department yesterday. The National Prosecuting Authority said it would comment today.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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