Voortrekker lifts its veil of silence

2014-07-03 00:00

THE mother of a former pupil at Voortrekker High School says she is yet to see any letters of apology after her son suffered alleged ritualistic torture and initiation practices at the school.

Voortrekker High School yesterday lifted its veil of silence on the allegations, releasing a statement nearly a month after a former pupil exposed the scandal.

The school remained tight-lipped since evidence of the abuse came to light, and insisted their “investigation” would not be influenced by the police or Department of Education.

Twelve matric boys are understood to have admitted to taking part in the practice, although the contents of their confessions are not known to The Witness.

A former pupil, who was removed from the school when his parents found evidence of third-degree burns from a steam iron on his body, lifted the lid on the long-standing initiation practice. The trauma of the teen’s ordeal peaked when he was branded, but was characterised by a three-month spate of physical and emotional abuse, the victim and his mother charge.

But promises made in the plea agreement have not been fulfilled despite the school’s charm offensive, according to the boy’s mother.

This comes as a disciplinary tribunal was called off after 12 boys accused in the matter accepted plea agreements, three weeks after the first sitting.

Because so many victims and witnesses to the ritual had come forward, the hearing would not have been concluded before the school year ended.

The offending pupils escaped with lenient penalties — only barred from school sports and their matric farewell.

A Department of Education investigation into allegations of a staff cover-up and criminal charges against the boys remain on track and could see many matric pupils facing further punitive action.

The mother and her son cannot be named because of the sexual nature of some of the allegations against the prefects.

A press statement issued by school governing body vice-chairperson Marius du Plessis said that silence on the matter was essential.

“A lot has been said about the manner in which the management and the governing body of Voortrekker High School conducted itself in the course of its investigations into the allegations of initiation, bullying and torture at the school’s hostel. Because of the nature of the allegations and ages of the pupils concerned, the governing body could not discuss the facts of the matter with third parties. This was done solely for the purpose of not exposing any of the victims to undue stress and pressure from outside interference.

“The governing body regrettably, was severely criticised for not discussing the matter with the broader public, but could not do so until its own internal disciplinary processes was finalised,” he wrote.

Du Plessis said that the school compiled a charge sheet detailing 20 offences. “A final charge sheet comprising 20 separate charges, with alternatives, involving 12 Grade 12 pupils was finalised and handed to each of the pupils concerned. The boys were suspended from the school hostel as a precautionary measure to ensure that they could not interfere with the alleged victims,” he said.

He said that all of the offending boys would have to write letters of apology to those they are alleged to have tormented.

“All the Grade 12 boys have to write letters of apology to the Grade 8 boys and to the school management for bringing the school into disrepute. The Grade 12 boys will each have to undergo counselling on the dangers of bullying and intimidation and on the values of respecting the dignity, freedom and equality of every other person in society. All the affected Grade 8 boys have been given access to counselling since the allegations arose. The parents of the Grade 8 boys who would testify at the disciplinary hearing were all contacted to discuss the plea bargain agreements and they were all satisfied that the sanctions are fitting. The governing body is satisfied that it has done everything in its power to finalise the matter in a transparent, proper and expedient manner,” he said.

“Lessons have been learnt by all the boys and the school has put new measures in place to ensure that no other pupil who calls the hostel a home away from home will ever be subjected to bullying and intimidation again. The Department of Education is finalising its report into the role, if any, that some of the educators at the hostel might have played in not reporting the incidents to the school management. These educators are in the employ of the Department of Education and the governing body may therefore not take any disciplinary steps against these educators. The governing body awaits the outcome of that investigation,” he said.

The boy’s mother hit back, saying that promises had not been kept.

“We have not seen any letter of apology so that to me is a bit of an empty statement. Moreover it was agreed that the parents and the school would reimburse me for all costs of travel, school fees and school uniform that I have incurred and that hasn’t happened either,” she said.

She added that she would continue with civil litigation against the pupils involved in the scandal, the school and the Education Department.

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