Parents in shock as alleged bully remains at school

2014-06-04 00:00

THE Voortrekker High School pupil who is at the centre of horrific torture and abuse claims remains at the school, despite assurances that he had been suspended.

An investigation by The Witness can now reveal that the pupil remains relatively unaffected by allegations against him, even representing the school in a rugby match at the weekend.

The pupil, who cannot yet be named, remains with full access to the children he is accused of tormenting.

Fourteen-year-old Matthew Opperman lifted the lid on what he claims was a three-month spate of unchecked abuse meted out by prefects.

Other concerned parents, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, told of similar cases of abuse during initiation, a deeply entrenched and allegedly violent ritual.

Opperman’s mother Theresa Charlton, who formally opened a police case of assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm on Monday, expressed her anger that the alleged bullies had not been removed from school.

She insisted that their “suspension” was an empty gesture, and an attempt by the school to whitewash the issue and save their reputation.

The prestigious school has defended the move, insisting that he had been removed from his position at the boarding establishment along with four others until an internal disciplinary process had run its course.

The school has remained defiant, insisting that it would not be steered by independent investigations into the claims by police and a high-level Department of Education investigation.

The inquiries into the conduct of the prefect during initiation rituals were launched yesterday, after details of assault and branding was revealed in Weekend Witness.

Opperman has started at a new high school in the province, a move prompted by fears of retribution from his tormentors, after he laid bare details of the initiation during which he suffered third degree when he was burnt with an iron.

In a statement penned by the teen, he reveals details of widespread assault and torture, allegedly endorsed by staff in charge of the boarding establishment.

The statement provided to The Witness claims:

• Grade 8 boys suffered daily beatings at the hands of matric boys allegedly orchestrated by senior prefects, often with implements like pipes or belts;

• They were forced to take part in the “Volstruis” ritual, during which they were stripped of their clothes and forced to run down a passage while they were struck by older boys;

• Boys were made to take off their clothes while their seniors took photographs of them;

• Boys were made to drink volumes of warm water and vinegar before intensive physical training;

• Pupils were made to beg for money, which had to be handed to their designated mentor and if they failed to meet their quota, they were badly beaten; and

• They were branded with a hot iron that caused third-degree burns, which went untreated.

Charlton said that she was not surprised to learn that the alleged bully was still at school and still playing rugby.

“After speaking to the principal I got the feeling that that was the way this whole process was going to go.

“I understand that this is not the first incident reported about this boy and he remains unaffected by his misdeeds,” she added.

Headmaster Jan Nel, who had initially told The Witness that the “ringleader” of the group had been suspended, refused to comment.

The school’s governing body defended their handling of the case.

“The pupil was suspended from the school hostel, but not from the school. He has not been suspended from school because the school examinations are commencing next week. He is in matric and should not be prejudiced in his preparation for the pending exams. His right to education is of utmost importance. The school and the hostel are separate entities and rules and procedures regarding suspension are different,” they wrote.

The governing body insisted that the pupil would not be able to intimidate those expected to testify at a disciplinary tribunal.

“He was removed from the hostel as a precautionary measure. We do not want any of the pupils who will testify at the upcoming hearing to feel intimidated by his continued presence there. As stated hereinabove, he was not suspended from the school, because of the imminent exams. One cannot simply expel a pupil from a public school. The South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 prescribes a set procedure when dealing with disciplinary matters involving pupils and the transgression of the school’s code of conduct.

“The governing body has suspended four boys from the school hostel who have all been charged and have all been given notice to attend disciplinary hearings in the course of next week. We are trying to get to the bottom of the allegations and every person involved will be charged and brought before a disciplinary tribunal.”

Psychologist Clive Willows said that continued exposure to a traumatic environment is detrimental to healing.

“Any person who has been exposed to something that they would perceive as traumatic as the victims in this case have, in order to facilitate their healing and recovery the very first thing that must be done is that they need to be assured of their safety and protection,” he said.

“A person who may have been traumatised who is exposed to the possibility of further danger by walking back into a school, knowing the same circumstances exist … is detrimental to their heeling,” he said.

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