Principal allowed ritual

2014-12-04 00:00

THE principal and hostel superintendent of Voortrekker High School “were aware” that Grade 8 pupils were tortured during an ­initiation ritual.

The damning findings of an Education ­Department investigation alleged that principal Jan Nel even participated in the ritual’s final ­ceremony, and that “Koshuis” superintendent Anna Snyders had provided pupils with alcohol.

The investigation was based on interviews with witnesses and pupils, and was ordered by the Department of Education after ­The Witness exposed the shocking initiation practice.

Governing body chairperson Marius du Plessis said that Nel and Snyders would not comment on the matter.

Investigators found the “allegations of ­initiation practices and abuse against pupils at ­Voortrekker High School are true”, according to the report, which came before the ­Pietermaritzburg high court this week.

The report stated the evidence put forward to investigators pointed to the fact that Nel and Snyders “were aware” of certain initiation practices although they claimed they were “just a prank and not meant to go overboard”.

However, investigators said there was no ­evidence that controls were put in place to ­ensure that “what was meant to be a prank ­remained a prank and nothing more”.

The principal had claimed not to be aware of abnormalities taking place.

While conceding that new pupils were ­subjected to initiation, he said these were ­“within normal acceptable practices” such as shaving off hair, the Grade 8s wearing name boards, carrying matrics’ bags and being given a hostel nickname.

The report states that pupils told ­investigators the practices “did not stop there”.

Allegations emerged of “acts of torture, bullying, grievous bodily harm and emotional stress”.

These included pupils being branded with hot irons on their naked buttocks, being burnt with cigarette lighters, being beaten and subjected to “Tabasco” — toilet paper put between boys’ buttocks, which was set alight and sprayed with ­deodorant.

They were subjected to “fight nights”, made to run naked along corridors while being beaten, and ordered to “slip out” of the hostel to smoke and drink alcohol on sports fields at night.

Pupils alleged alcohol was kept in the hostel superintendent’s room.

The day after they were ordered to drink ­alcohol pupils were called to the principal’s office on a pretext that they were going to be expelled for drinking alcohol. They were given letters by the principal which they were ordered by the prefects to open at lunch. The letters contained notes saying, “Welcome to Koshuis”.

Ironically the report is attached to an ­application in which Snyders and Nel obtained a court order on Monday setting aside ­disciplinary proceedings instituted against them by the Education Department.

The order — granted by consent — states that if new disciplinary action is instituted against Snyders and Nel the charge sheets must comply with the Employment of Educators Act of 1998.

In addition, they must be given sufficient time to request further particulars and to prepare for their hearing.

The department was also ordered to ensure that an Afrikaans to English interpreter is ­available.

In an affidavit, Snyders said the charge sheets that were served on both her and Nel were “vague” and inadequately framed, not even ­stating when or where the alleged misconduct occurred.

The prosecutor refused to provide additional information, stating this was the “first and final charge sheet”.

Department of Education spokesperson ­Muzi Mahlambi yesterday said that they would see the disciplinary action through.

“This is just a bump in the road and we are set on seeing this matter through to the end. In this entire saga we have viewed what went on in a serious light and we continue to do so,” he said.

“As the Education Department, when we ­discipline our staff, we do in accordance with the prescripts of the law. If our decisions are tested in court and the presiding officer is of a different opinion we will take their guidance and act per their instruction,” Mahlambi added.

The victim’s mother, who cannot be named as it would identify her teenage son, said that her family were looking for finality in the case. “We want this entire process to run its course and the legal action that we have ­instituted against the Education Department and other role players in the case is not going away,” she said.

“Whatever happens in their disciplinary hearing will not impact our legal action,” she added.

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