Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) are extremely distressed at media reports that several learners at Bothitong High School in the Northern Cape were allegedly given stipends by teachers in exchange for unprotected sex, and that learners have fallen pregnant by teachers as a result.
It is abhorrent that teachers – entrusted with the safety, wellbeing and development of learners – abuse their positions in this manner. It raises questions around the processes that the Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) and the South African Education Council for Educators (SACE) undertake to vet the individuals that they employ, and to root out those individuals who violate the law.
EE and the EELC empathise with the caregivers who had put their trust in these teachers. When parents and learners open criminal cases against the perpetrators, we encourage community members, and district and provincial education officials to offer their support.
We also urge the Department of Basic Education (DBE), the Northern Cape Department of Education, and SACE to demonstrate the necessary sensitivity and responsiveness for the duration of investigations. It must be ensured that the affected learners have access to counselling, and are protected from further trauma, and victimisation. Safe spaces must also be created for learners to report abuse, and for teachers to report their colleagues without fear of reprisal.
While we are encouraged that the Northern Cape Department of Education has launched an investigation into the matter and has immediately suspended the alleged perpetrators, we also call for the alleged perpetrators to be subject to criminal investigation. Those found guilty must not be able to find work at other schools – SACE must strike them off the roll of registered teachers.
Sexual and other physical violence against learners is a systemic problem in South Africa’s schools. A 2012 school violence study by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention found that more than a fifth of learners have experienced some form of assault at school. Political will from the side of the DBE, the PEDs, and law enforcement, are critical to combating this crisis. The Bothitong High example highlights the dangers of allowing impunity for teachers, and failing to properly assess every potential member of staff. This incident also provides an opportunity for all relevant organs of the State, to demonstrate zero tolerance for these unthinkable abuses. We commend those South African teachers who give of themselves and who risk much to ensure the safety and wellbeing of learners. EE and the EELC will continue to monitor the investigations process going forward.
For further comment:
Mila Kakaza (Equal Education Spokesperson) 076 553 3133
Daniel Linde (Deputy Director, Equal Education Law Centre) 083 601 0091