Does the Office of the Public Protector exist?

2019-02-22 11:10

Way back in the mid-20th Century a German theologian called Hans Küng wrote a book entitled, Does God Exist?  To be honest, the question mark was really what we would now call ‘click-bait’ since the eminent theologian was essentially trying to ‘prove’ that God certainly does exist. 

Did he succeed? – well, let’s not go there; instead, let’s explore my own ‘click-bait’ title, because, based on my own experience with the Office of the Public Protector, I’m beginning to wonder…

To be fair on the present incumbent, my issues pre-date her. In 2012 – I can quote day, month and pretty much the actual time – my adopted son, then 15 years old, told me that he had been sexually assaulted at school by a male teacher. At that stage, I was effectively a single parent trying to raise a beloved son for some five years or more; at that stage, he had been living with me permanently for about two years. I would have taken him in sooner, but even in 2010 there were ‘side issues’ about a white male adopting a Zulu youth, some of which I understood perfectly, and others that were pure racism. 

There’s a lot of stuff we have to ignore, as it were, to get to the main point of whether the Office of the Public Protector really does exist, such as intense outrage, difficult parenting concerns and real death threats. Those things are the subject(s) of another story.

The Office of the Public Protector became involved, at my request, in January 2014, mainly due to the insanely complicated, deliberately obstructive and generally incompetent response of the Department of Basic Education (DBE). The DBE investigator was professional and determined, but even then there were issues of meetings not being properly recorded, i.e. no minutes.

Anyway, enter the Office of the Public Protector in January 2014, and the initial impression was one of competent support – only to find that the ‘case’ had been closed in February of the same year, despite an email that I sent to said office at the end of January that the DBE was not keeping the promises that were made at our meeting. I am a patient person. There were more meetings with the DBE – at one stage I noticed that the issue was now listed as ‘Me versus the DBE’, a step forward, perhaps. And in April 2015, the Office of the Public Protector re-opened my case, except that there were ‘archive issues’ and it was only in September that I was finally contacted by another investigator from the Office of the Public Protector.

Now we were cooking, or so I thought. The Office of the Public Protector was finally taking up an issue that was especially personal to me, that there were sexual predator teachers embedded in our government schools. DBE officials were being threatened with subpoenas…a last minute report (literally) from the DBE investigator was copied to me. It was, from my perspective, full of holes, and I waited eagerly for my opportunity to point them out. Then, in February 2016, I was semi-formally informed by a frankly ambiguous and somewhat defensive email, that the Office of the Public Protector had no further input in this matter.

Now comes the real question of this article, Does the Office of the Public Protector Exist? I was not happy with this rather strange non-conclusion to the whole matter, and after a couple of months I gathered myself and started sending out emails. First, to the author of the email, questioning the ‘findings’. No reply. Then to the provincial director, asking for guidance. No reply.

Eventually, I contacted no less a person than Oupa Segalwe, the spokesperson for the Office of the Public Protector. Now I got a reply, but it was to be another one and a half years of emails before I finally received something that offered a way forward: yes, a review of my case was in order. I treasure that email; the person who sent it actually contacted me by phone! We were back in business…

By the way, we are now at the end of 2017, some five years after the original incident. My adopted son has grown up, somewhat painfully; I am ever aware of the terrible things I might not know about what actually happened, and I have seen the effects of ‘that thing’ played out in a youth who is incapable of effective study and opts out of FET due to the strikes and disruptions. I do my best to respect his privacy and be a supportive parent, whatever that means.

After more emails, in August 2018 I receive a clear message: a letter concerning my request for a review is being formulated and will be forwarded when ready. It is now February 2019. I have heard nothing and I am left with a simple question, does it really take six months to type a letter?

Actually, I am left with a lot of questions. I gave the Office of the Public Protector a clear ‘mandate’ to investigate one of the most disgusting and degrading things in our government schools, the existence of sexual predators. Why was there no one to take up that challenge? An article in The Witness, a KZN newspaper, highlighted the issue some years ago, decrying parents who ‘eat goat’ while their daughters are impregnated and describing sexual predation as ‘endemic’ in our government schools. It stated that more than 9 000 girls of school-going age were pregnant in KZN alone – a truly horrifying figure that was relegated to page 5 of said newspaper, so ‘highlighting’ is really a relative term. 

Male teacher on male learner was probably of the order of 1 000 during that year in the same province, though such practice is probably under-reported. Mr Lesufi got very excited last year when a few cases came to light in Gauteng, but there has not been much follow-up on those issues.

Media articles sometimes take a moment to focus on individual pain. My son (adopted) and I are still a family unit, and we experience a lot of joy in our lives together. We have come through difficult experiences, and we are still together; we respect each other, and we do our best to respect and integrate our different backgrounds. The two of us are, in a sense, a South African success. But the pain is real: something very bad happened to my son at a government high school; it is a dark shadow that up to now, has not been resolved.

Does the Office of the Public Protector exist? In my experience, no. There may be a lot of focus on high profile cases, and I do acknowledge that Advocate Madonsela’s legacy to the nation is unsurpassed; the Zondo commision may well be a turning point in South Africa’s history.  In the case of my matter, and the possibility of really investigating the truly terrible extent of sexual predation in government schools, I have to say that, sorry, the Office of the Public Protector has not proven itself to really exist at all.

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