'Comedy of errors' leaves former Soweto scholar patrol guard in sexual assault case a free man

2018-12-12 18:32
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Errors, discrepancies, not enough evidence submitted and numerous contradictions have left the parents of 13 young girls lost for words and doubting the justice system. 

This is after a former scholar patrol guard at a Soweto primary school was acquitted on three rape counts and 11 of sexual assault on Wednesday. 

Johannes Molefe, 58, was declared a free man after Acting Judge Peet Johnson found that the State had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he had committed the acts in 2017 on the children aged between five and 13. 

In handing down his judgment, Johnson described the case as a "comedy of errors". 

He further stated that the State, along with the police, teachers who had testified and handled the matter and the Teddy Bear Clinic had made numerous errors which may have contaminated the children's testimony. 

"I have no doubt that they influenced each other one way or another," Johnson said. 

Not 'far-fetched' that children coached

Most of the girls testified that Molefe had touched their private parts but could not detail the exact days. They could only say that it was in 2017. 

Johnson noted that some of what was said by the complainants during consultations at the Teddy Bear Clinic was not included in the initial statements that were made by the children, which resulted in the witnesses and complainants' credibility being questionable. 

He also said it was not "far-fetched" that the children were coached at the clinic. Johnson added that the children had also influenced each other. 

While there was a complainant who had testified that Molefe had placed his fingers inside her vagina in front of her friends, Johnson said it was "highly improbable" that that would have happened without anyone seeing. 

Johnson also slammed the State for failing to prove its case "beyond a reasonable doubt", citing that although there were CCTV cameras at the school, no footage was taken and used as evidence, which was also questionable for the court. 

Johnson said the National Prosecuting Authority had failed to follow guidelines and detailed how it was meant to handle cases. 

'Why should victims be penalised'

Phindile Senye, who represented the parents, said they were "devastated and disappointed". 

"We feel that the court was very unfair to the victims. Because I understand there are processes and technicalities but then I think it was not proven beyond any doubt. The judge concentrated more on the errors, he even mentioned a "comedy of errors" that took place. But then if there was an error that was committed, why should victims be penalised because of the errors done by the police?" she said.

Senye added that they were also very disappointed by the conduct of the police as there were many discrepancies from the beginning of the case. 

READ: Former Soweto scholar patrol guard acquitted on rape, sexual assault charges

"We even raised this with the [South African Police Service] to say, number one, 'what criteria did you use to identify the investigating officer?' There was no clear indication, all they said is that they identified him because he was on standby at the time," she said. 

Senye said they believed that a case of this nature and calibre was supposed to have been assigned to an officer who was  experienced in handling sexual offences cases. 

"We were definitely failed by the justice system. We could have taken the law into our own hands as community members, but we respected the law of this country. But now if we are failed by the justice system, I am not sure what is going to happen after this," Senye said.  

More training for teachers

She said the community would be angered by news of the judgment and she would meet with them later on Wednesday to give feedback on the verdict. 

"Heaven knows what is going to happen after this," Senye said. 

Speaking on behalf of the Gauteng department of education, Steve Mabona said it was a sad moment for the department but that it respected the judgment. 

He said the number of contradictions and errors committed by police and teachers was an indication that educators needed more training on how to deal with such cases. 

"We need to go back as the department to say when you receive complaints, what is it that you need to do and how are you going to report it, so that you do not contaminate the case," Mabona said. 

Johnson made it clear during his judgment that there was some sort of contamination in the statements with regards to what was said by the children to their parents, the police and the Teddy Bear Clinic.

State's failure 'unforgivable'

Mabona said the process of screening patrollers employed at schools was also being reviewed. 

"We took the responsibility of appointing patrollers away from the department and back to the department of community safety so that they can then manage that process for us," he added.

Miranda Jordan from organisation Women and Men Against Child Abuse said children and their families were failed by the gross incompetence of not just one, but many other components of the state. 

"From the initial handling of the matter by the school and the Gauteng department of education, to the SAPS' investigating officers, social workers, interpreters and finally the prosecution, the whole process has been tainted by the blatant mistakes and negligence which led to today's ruling," Jordan said. 

She added that it was "unforgivable" that the children who were victims of childhood sexual abuse now had to walk away further traumatised by the failure of various state institutions.

Molefe's sister, Mitta Buthelezi, said she was overjoyed that her brother's case had finally come to an end. 

"I am very happy because it has been hurting for the whole year. I couldn't even sleep at night. God is good, I am happy that it is finally over," Buthelezi said. 


Read more on:    johannesburg  |  courts
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