Gauteng education department's sexual harassment probe extended to other schools in Soweto
The Gauteng Education Department is extending its investigation to other schools in Soweto after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced at a primary school in Orlando East.
“You can see this school is in a precinct of many other schools around this area‚” Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said.
Lesufi wants to overhaul the security at the school in Soweto and wants to revamp the vetting process of guards at schools in the province. This comes after 87 pupils were allegedly sexually assaulted by a guard at a school in Soweto.
“We don’t want it to be a police process alone‚ because police might confine themselves to police-related matters‚ but the school environment goes beyond [the] police environment.”
Lesufi said guards are not appointed by the school governing body (SGB).
The guards are part of the National Department of Public Works’ Extra School Support Programme (ESSP). They are identified and vetted as candidates by the local community policing forums (CPFs) before being appointed to serve as guards for a one-year period.
“It’s a value-add to the education department‚ but this kind of thing makes it very difficult for us to still treat it as a value-add.”
Lesufi said the 58-year-old guard implicated at the Soweto school was vetted and had a clean record. The only issues that had popped during the vetting process were three cases he had opened at the police against other people.
Lesufi said they were currently going beyond criminal records for further background checks on the guard.
One of the pupils first reported an incident of alleged sexual assault to their grandmother in February this year before her grandmother officially reported the incident to the school in September.
Lesufi hailed her as a hero.
“If she didn’t raise this thing‚ who knows where we will be by now.”
Lesufi said the Gauteng Education Department and the sector as a whole failed the school and the pupils.
“It’s not what the school management did. It’s not what the district did. It’s not what the SGC (school governing body) has done. It is that as a sector‚ the Department of Education‚ including myself‚ we have failed your children.”
The principal and school management was removed from the school last week.
Lesufi said they were not removed because they are guilty.
“We felt‚ let’s remove them so that whoever wants to give us evidence or whatever children want to say‚ they must say‚ ‘We are scared of this particular individual’.”
Lesufi said the department will “act decisively” on any possible evidence.
“There is no holy cow‚ including myself.”
Lesufi said the department will support parents who want to move their children to another school and that pupils will be allowed to write their exams elsewhere.