OPEN LETTER TO ST ANDREWS | Duty of care vs. triumph of evil in the David Mackenzie matter

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Former St Andrews College water polo coach David Mackenzie.
Former St Andrews College water polo coach David Mackenzie.

A News24 reader who has requested to stay anonymous has written an open letter to St Andrews following the revelations about its former water polo coach David Mackenzie. Our anonymous writer was abused when he was at high school. He has four issues he wanted to raise with the School Governing Body on St Andrews in light of the scandal.

It is with interest (and level of appreciation and anticipation) that I read the News24 article that the council of St Andrew's College in Grahamstown has stated that it will conduct a "full review of the school's actions" [or non-action ?] in relation to complaints over the behaviour of former water polo coach David Mackenzie accused of behaving inappropriately with pupils who were under the care of the school's council.

While I appreciate the fact that St Andrew's College can only proceed "once all relevant information has been released", I am hoping that this letter will "calibrate your compass".

It is with the some interest that I read the New24 article where it is said that Alan Thompson, the Head Master of St Andrews College communicated to "the school community" that "there was an article and podcast published by News24 [on 16th September 2021] that suggested the death of Thomas Kruger, in 2018, was related to predatory behaviour by a staff member at the time".

Thomson is quoted as saying "We take our duty of care extremely seriously …."

News24 reported in the same article that Mackenzie was suspended on 7 June 2018, pending a disciplinary hearing but resigned with immediate effect before it could convene on 11 June 2018.

I also noted the headlines of Adriaan Basson’s column published 27 September titled "The crisis of sexual predators moonlighting as teachers".

Let me provide some context as to my interest in these articles.

I was a scholar at a public school in the early 80’s – this was before model C schools and the advent of School Governing Bodies. Elite schools did exist at the time. In fact St Andrew's School, Bloemfontein which was founded in 1863 and St. Michael's School which was established in 1874 are such well known schools. 

I initially made the mistake to link David Mackenzie with St Andrew's School, Bloemfontein.

I was molested by a department head at the public school that I attended. I was not the only one. I was one of the lucky ones who managed to escape the jaws of evil through the grace of God, yet the scars remain and the silence and shame haunted me until I was 43 years old.

It was then that I told my parents (for the first time) after which I went to the school and forgave Mr. Predator (in a symbolic gesture by standing at the door of his office were the incident happened as he had already died at the time) for what he did and what he stole from me.

I also wrote to the headmaster at the time when Mr. Predator was active with his predatory behaviour.

I wrote to Mr. Accessory (who retired shortly before my visit to the school) and said I forgave him for not doing anything at the time. 

Mr. Accessory undoubtedly knew what was happening under his watch and did nothing [He also elected not to reply to my letter]. 

Mr. Predator left the school many years after I left school and "fled" to Namibia where he died.

Only three people knew what happened to me (before I "spilled the beans" when I turned 42) – Mr. Predator, my best friend (and now my wife) and myself – oh I always (try to) forget - Mr. Accessory as well.

So let me take you into the world of oversight, custodian, steward (which includes School Governing Bodies).

The quote "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" comes to mind when I reflect on these articles and my personal experience, including interestingly enough as a member of a School Governing Body.

This famous quote can reportedly be traced back to the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, who delivered an 1867 inaugural address at none other than the University of St. Andrews (note the "link" ?).

The original quote stated - "Let not anyone pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject."

I want to ask the School Governing Body of St Andrews College the following:

  • Can you honestly say that it is the absolute truth that you [or those who were on the School Governing Body in 2018) "take [your] duty of care extremely seriously"? 
  • I would like to understand the School Governing Body of St Andrews College’s decision not to proceed with action against David Mackenzie? I certainly do not need to educate the stakeholders at St Andrews College on the workings of the law when it comes to exercising duty of care. You are undoubtedly aware that the School Governing Body of St Andrews College as an employer is fully entitled to proceed with the disciplinary hearing even if an employee has resigned.
  • Have you (or are you), as a Governing Body and individual members of a Governing Body perhaps pacifying your individual and collective conscience by the delusion that you can do no harm if you take no part, and form no opinion by not having taken the appropriate disciplinary action against Mackenzie. 
  • Have you or are you, as a Governing Body and individual members of a Governing Body reflecting on the quote by Jan Hofmeyr "I hope you will always be true to the boy in you," which is prominently published on your website, and what that (lie) means to individuals like myself ?

If I had been a member of your Governing Body at the time I would have advised that you take the strongest action possible, proceed with the disciplinary matter against Mackenzie (not withstanding his resignation) in a deliberate and vigorous manner as stewards and guardians. In doing so providing evidence that you do in fact mean "We take our duty of care extremely seriously …."

I for one can attest to the long term harm of silence and no action and I am genuinely interested in the inner workings of humanity and in particular people of power who allow evil to triumph by doing nothing.

It is my hope that school principals, School Governing Bodies, Councils and others entrusted with taking care of pupils take a stand (individually and collectively) against sexual predators moonlighting as teachers. I agree with Adriaan Besson – it is nothing less than a crises.

I so wished that Mr. Predator and Mr. Accessory would have been taken to account for their actions and non-actions resulting in my shame and pain.

- Anonymous 

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