‘Baby rape’ exam uproar

2013-11-27 00:00

MATRIC drama pupils, sitting for their final exam on Monday, were asked in a compulsory question to describe the symbolic rape of a baby using a loaf of bread and a broomstick.

The question related to Laura Foot Newton’s play Tshepang and asked pupils to describe how they would depict the rape of a child using the props specified.

Parents, teachers and pupils yesterday said they were horrified at the question and had complained to the Department of Education.

They have written to the national Department of Education asking that all drama pupils be immediately awarded the 15 marks attributed to that section.

A senior Department of Education official said the issue will be raised at a meeting in Pretoria today where the memo for the marking of the paper will be discussed.

“I am going to be making a loud clarion call, at that meeting, for the head of the person responsible for that question to roll,” said the official.

With more than 20 years’ experience as a drama expert, the official said there was nothing creative about the question and that it was “downright insensitive and immoral”.

“Schools are the custodians of everything that is right and appropriate in society. This is wrong, vulgar and a perpetuation of social injustice and gender stereotypes,” she said.

Pupils interviewed by The Witness said they were too embarrassed to repeat what they had written in their answers to the question.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one pupil said she had been “sick to her stomach” with the question.

“While drama is all encompassing, we never expected such a question or topic. This is sickening to say the least. How does a 17-year-old describe the rape of a baby? We have been forced to imagine the unimaginable,” said the pupil.

Another pupil said one of her friends was most upset as she had a younger sister who had been sexually abused.

“She was in tears after the paper saying she thought she failed the paper because that question just brought everything right back. She said she did not even answer that question,” said the pupil.

Psychologist Tamryn Sprunt said the question was definitely inappropriate for 17-year-olds.

“What worries me is that we are forcing them to think about the brutality, violence, and viciousness involved in the rape of a baby. If a pupil was psychologically disturbed this could prove to be a catalyst for future behaviour,” said Sprunt.

Peter Mitchell, a drama lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg campus and himself a drama director, said: “This question is not about rape. It is about technique, directing technique and staging.

“It is a creative question about how you would get an actor to portray the rape in a non-realistic way, but still portray the horror of the situation.”

But activist groups condemned the question.

Child rights advocacy group Bobbi Bear’s administration director, Eureka Olivier said she was “absolutely disgusted”.

“I do not understand the concept of using a broomstick and a loaf of bread to depict such a thing. What are we teaching our children by having such a question in an exam paper?” she said.

Jess Foord Rape Crisis Centre trauma counsellor, Michelle Smith, said she was disturbed by the question.

“It also assumes that by asking them to depict such a thing, they have seen this happen. I believe it is incredibly insensitive to the thousands of children who are being sexually abused daily. You cannot put something like this in an exam paper and call it raising awareness.”

But Rekha Nathoo, director of Children in Distress (Cindi) said nothing was wrong with the question as children needed to be aware of the injustices in society.

“Situations like this are a reality in our country and it happens to our children. Children are the future and they need to be made aware of the realities of this country through education, even at school level, if we want to make a change. I commend the fact that at matric level these issues are being brought to light through the use of theatre,” said Nathoo. — Additional reporting by Annzra Naidoo and Sonam Bhagwandas.

Pupils have seen acclaimed play

TSHEPANG was staged in Pietermaritzburg in September as part of the Epworth School Festival and in May at the Hexagon.

Lara Foot Newton’s drama Tshepang was inspired by the gruesome 2001 rape of a nine-month-old baby. Tshepang shows the horror that takes place in a community ensnared by poverty, isolation and a lack of prospects. Only two characters appear on stage: Simon, for whom the play is a long monologue, uses simple narration to unravel the incidents that led to the rape of baby Tshepang, and Ruth, who speaks only one word.

It was also staged by Maurice Podbrey and Durban theatre personality Bheki Mkhwane at the Playhouse Loft Theatre in April 2011, and at Michaelhouse’s Schlesinger Theatre in March 2011. — Arts Editor.

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