Charges laid against officials for failing to check if teachers on sex offenders list

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga. Picture: GCIS
Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga. Picture: GCIS

The Democratic Alliance has laid criminal charges against officials in the South African Council for Educators (SACE) for their continued failure to adequately vet teachers against the sex offenders register in the past 10 years.

The charges were laid at Buitenkant Street Police station in Cape Town against SACE chief executive, Ella Mokgalane, chairperson Mabutho Cele, and “any other SACE board members” who may have known about SACE’s failure to adequately vet teachers in terms of Section 47 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act.

DA Member of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, Sonja Boshoff, said “in failing to check the sexual offenders register, SACE appears to have breached the law”.

The licensing authority is mandated to vet potential teachers or businesses concerned with or working in the supervision over or care of a child against the sexual offenders register to prevent paedophiles from gaining access to children.

Section 47 then states that “any licensing authority or person who intentionally contravenes any provision of this section, is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding seven years or to both a fine and such imprisonment”.

Boshoff said “the Act was introduced from 2007 and the fact that SACE has neglected to vet teachers against the sexual offenders register for a decade shows that the government does not care about learners’ safety”.

This comes after SACE – who are mandated to ensure that all teachers are fit to work with children through rigorously vetting them before granting them a teaching licence – admitted in a reply to a DA Parliamentary question that for at least the last ten years they had not vetted teachers against the sexual offenders register or child protection register before issuing licences, as required by law.

On Sunday the Department of Basic Education (DBE) stated that SACE did not in fact have to work through the DBE to gain access to the register, a move seen as by the DA as an attempt by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to absolve herself from responsibility.

According to Boshoff, for now the DA will not be laying charges against Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga for her department’s role in this negligence but she maintained that this did not absolve the minister from wrongdoing.

The SACE is an entity of the DBE which should have ensured that they were not breaking the law, Boshoff said.

Clinical director and spokesperson of The Teddy Bear Foundation, Dr Shaheda Omar, expressed shock and disappointment that the SACE had not vetted teachers against the sex offenders register for the past 10 years.

“It is unacceptable and no excuses can justify such negligence which may have exposed learners to paedophiles and sex pests in our schools,” said Omar.

Addressing the manner in which the basic education department was laying the blame solely on the SACE, Omar said “ignorance of the law is no excuse for allowing such a catastrophic thing to happen.

"The blame lies on all the involved parties (the SACE and the DBE), they need to stop pointing figures at each other and prioritise the safety of leaners”.

Boshoff said the excuse given by the SACE for the failure to vet teachers was that they were currently understaffed with only 3 prosecutors and 2 investigators at their disposal.

Omar said the fact that the licensing authority was understaffed demonstrated poor forward planning from the organisation and could not be a sufficient excuse.

What needed to be the priority, according to Omar, was the safety and well-being of students who urged the regulatory body to start vetting not only teachers, but any staff members at schools who came into contact with minors.

In March, a school in Soweto, AB Xuma Primary School in Orlando, was thrust into the spotlight after a scholar patroller was accused of sexually assaulting 87 students.

The incident garnered more attention after a police officer tasked with preparing some of the assaulted students was later accused by the same students of also sexually assaulting them.

In light of this, Boshoff said it was high time that the minister “puts politics aside and supported our call to prioritise the safety of all learners, especially taking to account that this week marked Child Protection Week.”

The next step according to Boshoff was to ensure that SACE adhered to the mandate that is given to them and ensure that all those getting into the field of education were rigorously vetted.

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