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Teacher fired for sexually assaulting pupils at special needs school

Ernest Mabuza Journalist
The Education Labour Relations Council has ordered the dismissal of teacher Njabulo Siphesihle Mbeje for sexually assaulting pupils of a special needs school in the Eastern Cape. Stock photo.
The Education Labour Relations Council has ordered the dismissal of teacher Njabulo Siphesihle Mbeje for sexually assaulting pupils of a special needs school in the Eastern Cape. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Andreypopov

The Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) has ordered the dismissal of a teacher it found guilty of sexually assaulting seven pupils at a special needs school by forcefully kissing them and touching their buttocks, thighs and rib cages without their consent. 

The arbitrator was called upon to decide whether Njabulo Siphesihle Mbeje was guilty of the charges proffered against him by the Eastern Cape education department and to make an appropriate award or sanction. 

Mbeje is employed by the department as an educator at Sive Special School in Cedarville in the Alfred Nzo district municipality, where he teaches computer application technology in grades 10 to 12. 

The department called two witnesses. The first testified that in February or March 2021, when she was doing grade 7 and aged 15, Mbeje locked the door to the computer room and started to touch her breasts, private part and buttocks. 

After the touching, the child said the teacher opened the door, and she left without saying anything. 

The second complainant said in June 2021, when she was 20, after she had taken off her uniform and was preparing for sleep, she was called by the teacher and told to sweep at the library.

She said the teacher followed her to the library. When she was done with the cleaning, he asked her to kiss him, but she refused. She said they then went to another room adjacent to the library, with the teacher holding her by the hand.

She said when they were inside the room, he started to kiss her, and she pushed him away.

Mbeje, who testified, denied the allegations against him. He said only two pupils testified out of the seven mentioned in the charges. 

He said in 2021 there was a shortage of classrooms and the computer room was therefore used as a classroom. Mbeje said there was no time when there were no pupils in the room.

When it was put to him that this version was not put to the pupils when they testified, he said he could not remember.   

In reaching his conclusion, the commissioner said it was for the legal representatives of the party to decide which witnesses to call. 

“In this dispute the [department's] witnesses testified about their own experience of being abused and assaulted, and I will base my findings on the evidence before me which [Mbeje] had an opportunity to cross-examine twice.

“Since my findings will be based on the evidence presented at the arbitration, the absence of the evidence from the learners who did not testify would not have made the [department's] version more probable that it was. I hence am not convinced to draw negative inferences from their failure to testify.” 

The commissioner said if Mbeje’s representative felt that the five pupils who were not called by the department were going to come with facts to discredit the case of the department, it was within their rights to call the five pupils to be their witnesses, even to the extent of issuing a subpoena. 

“The act for which [Mbeje] has been found guilty involved the touching of the genital organs and the breasts of the complainant, as well as the forceful kissing of the other complainant by the respondent. What [the teacher] did therefore meets the requirements of the definition of sexual assault.” 

The commissioner said the teacher conducted himself in an improper, disgraceful and unacceptable manner, thus contravening the Employment of Educators Act.

Mbeje was also found unsuitable to work with children. The general secretary of the ELRC was directed to notify the social development department to enter his name on the national child protection register.

TimesLIVE


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