Porn ring principal ‘the nicest guy ever’

2013-08-25 14:01

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News of six arrests linked to an international child pornography ring rocked South Africa this week. Sizwe sama Yende and Bienne Huisman explore how a trusted school principal’s arrest has rocked his community.

The single-storey house in an upmarket White River, Mpumalanga, suburb is quiet.

There’s a “For Sale” board on the lawn outside, but no sign of any life.

The estate agent handling the sale says: “The owner has put the house on the market and relocated to Pretoria. We’ll be putting it on our website soon.”

According to Property24, the house was last sold in 2010 for R1.03?million – presumably to its current owner, who moved there to take up a position at an elite private school.

So far, so mundane.

But the house is standing empty because its owner has been arrested and charged with the possession of child pornography.

The police are now trying to find out whether he and five others – as well as others against whom warrants are expected to be executed – were manufacturing and producing child pornography, and whether they can be charged as part of an international crime syndicate.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale said this week the police had raided 15 properties and seized 672 DVDs, 22 memory sticks, eight laptops, two computer tablets, 39 external hard drives and 25 books.

The other men arrested include two teachers from Florida and Carletonville, and a doctor from Bloemfontein.

Now White River’s affluent residents are reeling.

The school where the man has been a well-liked and popular principal for three years has “terminated” his employment “by mutual agreement”, according to a statement that was on its website earlier this week, but has since been removed.

Nobody knows what to believe.

Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor told City Press: “This is a small community, so I’ve met and know the guy. He’s highly regarded around here and is a decent man. I’m concerned about this moral panic and the arrest doesn’t make him a pervert in my mind.

“You just hope the police are wrong. But if not, it’s a tragedy.”

Collen Nkosi, who has a Grade 5 child at the school, said parents were “shocked and puzzled” by the arrest “because he was professional”.

“Kids went in and out of his office and he gave them chocolates for a job well done.”

The former principal, who went to ground this week and could not be reached, comes across as a sophisticated and accomplished 49-year-old, an award-winning author and mild-mannered English teacher with a great passion for children.

He coaches school water polo at the national level.

In his most recent role and his previous job at an exclusive Cape Town school, he moves in the upper echelons of society.

He likes to retreat to his wooden beach cottage in a village near Port Alfred in Eastern Cape, where he usually stays by himself for two weeks over December and is occasionally joined by his father or brother.

His novel has won prestigious accolades. It follows the tribulations of a 16-year-old who becomes entangled in a murder mystery.

This week people described him as “the nicest guy ever”.

Last Friday, he withdrew from the board of Schools Water Polo SA. His portfolio on the board was team development and talent identification.

A sportsmanship trophy, awarded yearly to the top under-16 male player in the country, is even named after him.

Steve La Marque of Schools Water Polo SA expressed “huge shock” at the news this week.

“He is a wonderful guy whom I’ve known for 30 years. I’m devastated to think this could be true.

“From my personal interaction with him, I would say that he has always been very professional,” said La Marque.

In Eastern Cape, real estate agent Annette Crouse, who rents out his three-bedroom beach cottage, echoed La Marque’s distress.

Crouse had sleepless nights after the news broke.

“He is a very, very sweet person. When I heard the news yesterday I couldn’t sleep,” she said.

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