Open letter to the Public Protector regarding sexual predation in schools

2019-08-01 10:26
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane speaks during a media briefing in Pretoria. (Photo by Gallo Images/Sunday Times/Thapelo Morebudi)

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane speaks during a media briefing in Pretoria. (Photo by Gallo Images/Sunday Times/Thapelo Morebudi)

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I noted an article on News24 about the Office of the Public Protector and its concern for ‘Gogo Dlamini’ which I took to be a generic reference to the ‘ordinary South African citizen’. 

I am not ‘Gogo Dlamini’ but I am an ordinary South African citizen and I can tell you quite clearly that the Office of the Public Protector appears to me to have little or no interest in us. We are a ‘side issue’, an ‘annoyance’, an ‘unfortunate byproduct’ of the original intention and as such we are placated, ignored or actually intimidated, if necessary, especially when we detract from the main purpose of the institution. What is that main purpose? 

I suspect it is at least two-fold: to perpetuate the illusion of state concern for ordinary citizens, but more importantly to ensure its own continuing as a self-serving entity that doesn’t actually do anything.

I know what I am talking about.  I have written articles for MyNews24 detailing the inadequacies of this venerable Chapter Nine institution. Briefly, to save you the necessity of checking: a five-year correspondence eventually resulted, in late February 2019, in a formal acknowledgement that, “Your matter will be referred back to our Kwa-Zulu Natal provincial office for reinvestigation by a new investigator who is to take into account and address the gross deficiencies which have been identified in the investigation of the matter.” 

I want to underline the words gross and deficiencies. Five years ago when the Office of the Public Protector began its intervention, I was quite impressed and hopeful: although the investigators appeared rather young, they gave the impression that their energy and commitment would be a force to be reckoned with. Two years later the whole matter was summarily closed, for reasons that were not clear to me. I didn’t give up, and in February of this year, I was again impressed, though somewhat jaded and cynical by this time.  Still, a Chapter Nine institution had actually admitted that it had seriously messed up. Surely that meant something? 

Nearly six months on to the present day and I still don’t know who the ‘new’ investigator is. Oh, there has been some communication; I have even had the opportunity to – finally – respond to the three-year-old report from the Department of Education. But up to now it’s basically ‘no comment’ on the gross deficiencies. 

It is interesting that the person who received my comments on the report was quite happy to respond, essentially repeating a defence of the things that I am contesting, but when I pressed about the ‘investigation’ the reply was, ‘I’m not actually the investigator, but I have passed on your file…’

Meanwhile, there is a lot of drama about ‘Mkhwebane versus Gordhan’ and ‘Mkhwebane versus Ramaphosa’.  Important stuff, I know, but what I am really interested in is the fact that my adopted son was sexually harassed at a government school seven years ago.  That’s the personal side. The professional side is that I am a Mathematics teacher and I have been looking at the statistics. They are truly appalling. 

I have previously quoted an article that appeared in the witness on 26 November 2016: 9 100 girls of school-going age pregnant in the previous year and a quote suggesting that sexual predation was ‘endemic’ in government schools. In my response to the three-year-old report from the Department of Education, I referred to this damming article; the ‘not actually the investigator’ reply included: ‘Can we kindly stick to the matter in hand…’

According to these statistics, there are now perhaps some 27 000 girls of school-going age who are pregnant, assuming year on year parity; there are also some 3 000 plus boys who have experienced sexual harassment and, by the way, this is in KZN alone.  And that is counting from 2016; we are looking at 70 000 victims since I first reported the matter of my adopted son in 2012.

So here is my question to you, the Office of the Public Protector: what exactly do you do? Are you a self-serving institution, or do you actually proceed in the spirit/vision of what is expected of you in the constitution? I offered you a two-fold opportunity/challenge: a particular case of sexual predation – you have admitted that you did not do so well investigating that – and the general issue of dealing with sexual predators ‘endemic’ in our government schools. Your main reply to that, up to now, seems to be, ‘Can we stick to one matter at a time…’

I am not interested in politics, I vote when I can according to the dictates of my conscience and my perception of the situation at that time, though I note with sadness that the Office of the Public Protector is now perceived as to have entered into that ugly arena. 

I am passionately concerned with the issue of sexual predation in government schools, both as a parent who has to deal with the sexual harassment of my adopted son, and as an educator who is horribly aware that this is an on-going stain on the profession that I love.  As a Mathematics teacher, I am well aware of the ‘Lies, dammed lies and statistics’ quote, but the article I refer to was clear that it was quoting statistics from one single year. 

The interpolations I submit are well within statistical variations.  Is it not shocking that no one in the Department of Education, the media, or the Office of the Public Protector, has appeared to rise to the challenge that the numbers point to a fundamental crisis in our government schools? Tens of thousands of learners have been subjected to unwanted and unwarranted sexual attention since I first raised this matter – in KZN alone. Is it not the constitutional task of the Office of the Public Protector to stem this terrible tide?  To help put a stop to the unquantifiable damage that we are wreaking on the next generation by an apparent disinterest in the data?

I am not ‘Gogo Dlamini’ but I am a seriously concerned South African citizen.  I beg you, the Office of the Public Protector, a Chapter Nine institution that is supposed to work for me and ordinary South African citizens like me:

1. Address the issue(s) I raise.

2. In particular, formally propose some remedial action, especially concerning the way victims parents/guardians and alleged perpetrators are dealt with.

(It is surely fundamentally improper that a victim’s parent/guardian have a meeting with the alleged perpetrator.  In my case it was ‘forced’ and I did complain. Such a meeting offers the possibility of a ‘settlement’, read ‘Parents Eat Goat’…)

3. Deal with your acknowledged gross deficiencies swiftly and unequivocally.

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