School gags pupils on torture in boys’ hostel

2014-06-05 00:00

A WALL of silence has been thrown up at Voortrekker High School in Pietermaritzburg amid claims that management and staff have moved to cover-up evidence of unchecked torture and physical abuse during initiations.

This comes as police and provincial Education Department officials probe allegations made by former pupil Matthew Opperman, who claims he was assaulted over a three-month period. The trauma of the teen’s ordeal peaked when he was branded with a steam iron, leaving him with third degree burns that went untreated for weeks.

This week it emerged that the alleged figureheads behind the initiation, a group of the senior prefects, remained at school and even represented Voortrekker in a rugby match.

The Witness can reveal that the school’s administration:

• Gagged teachers from disclosing information on the violent initiation rituals that had become entrenched in school culture.

• “Encouraged” pupils to be positive when submitting sworn statements.

• Instructed pupils to mislead investigators if they are questioned, by being “discreet” and not disclosing information on related incidents of assault and abuse.

Attempts to contact the school’s governing body for comment proved unsuccessful. Department of Education spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi could not be reached, despite repeated attempts to contact him.

Matthew claimed in a written statement that a teacher at the boarding establishment had seen to his severe burn wound and had instructed him not to notify his parents.

Damage control by the school’s administration comes as pressure from parents, police and Education Department officials begins to mount.

A source within the school, who could not be named for fear of reprisal, said that the school had effected a systematic cover up in an attempt to save face. “While children have been suspended from the hostel, their friends continue to manipulate boys into being positive about the koshuis [hostel]. Many boys remain afraid to speak out,” the source said.

“Even if the koshuis is a separate entity, teachers and pupils are using school time to tell pupils that they must not believe the newspapers and if they are negative about the school they are being disloyal. The school has a culture of favouritism that has gone on for many years. The school will protect certain people at all costs,” the source added.

A pupil at the school, who came forward on condition of anonymity, said that headmaster Jan Nel had addressed the pupil body this week.

“He told us that we must not tell anyone about the things that are happening at the school and we must be discreet about other incidents that have occurred. The kids are really too scared to come forward and talk about it. The hostel children are being told not to discuss anything with the day scholars,” the pupil said.

The scandal, which has rocked the prestigious school, featured prominently in the provincial legislature, with the Democratic Alliance calling for a “comprehensive policy on practices of initiation and hazing at schools in the province”.

DA spokesperson on Education Mbali Ntuli welcomed the department’s independent investigation.

“The DA welcomes the MEC’s decision to launch an independent probe into the alleged incidents which took place at the school hostel.

“It is imperative that rules are put into place to protect our pupils. We expect the MEC to report back to the KZN education portfolio committee on a way forward which will ensure that our schools are safe, secure and nurturing environments which are conducive to learning,” Ntuli added.

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