Shocking cases of child abuse, including the rape of schoolgirls by their teachers and principals, and that almost 500 pupils from one district alone have fallen pregnant, have plunged the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education into a “crisis”.
At a meeting in Durban on `Wednesday to discuss support programmes for children at risk, Education MEC Senzo Mchunu said child abuse at KZN schools was on the rise – and becoming “uglier”.
“The most important one is the pregnancy rate at schools, which is quite disturbing,” Mchunu said.
“From January up until now, 465 children have fallen pregnant.”
The girls are from the uThungulu district in northern KZN.
At just one school – Mpofeni High School in Vryheid – 60 pupils were reported to have fallen pregnant last year, he said.
Province-wide, the number of school pregnancies are expected to surpass the 12 971 recorded in 2010.
“What made us call this meeting was the involvement of teachers in love affairs with pupils,” Mchunu said.
“Since I joined the department in 2009, in all the cases that have happened, I must honestly say that I have not come across white, coloured or Indian male teachers who have been accused of this behaviour. It is only African males.”
Mchunu said several teachers had been dismissed this year for sexual misconduct.
Apart from the teen pregnancies, the MEC said he found the nature of the child abuse at schools especially upsetting.
“I am talking about things that are unbelievable. The abuses are turning uglier,” he said. “One is about a principal in Mbongolwane, outside Eshowe, who told a child to remain behind when school finished. He then grabbed the child, stripped her and raped her in the classroom.”
Mchunu said the principal later approached the girl’s family, wanting to pay lobola for her.
And in Mtubatuba, a teacher wanted to pay R40 000 to the mother of a child he had assaulted if she withdrew the charges, he said.
Mchunu also spoke of a school head of department who picked up a child who was walking home from school.
“He drove with her to a bush where he took out a mat and placed it on the ground and ordered the child to lie down and raped her repeatedly,” he said. “People heard the girl’s cries and came to see, without him noticing, and called the police.
“Even when the police arrived, he was still raping the girl.”
Mchunu said an estimated five million South Africans were infected with HIV or Aids, so there was a high possibility that some or many of the 465 pupils who fell pregnant this year had contracted the virus.
“In reality, we are in a crisis as a province and if I don’t say so, I will be hiding the truth,” he said. “We need to do something about this. It is of great concern.”
The department’s general manager for social enrichment programmes, Gugu Madlala, said at the meeting that this was not a problem that they could face alone.
She said one of the biggest issues was poverty: poor parents ended up accepting money from perpetrators.
Madlala said 12 971 pupils had fallen pregnant at KZN schools in 2010. There were no comparable statistics yet for last year, but officials believe the figure could be higher this year.
The school district with the most teen pregnancies in 2010 was Vryheid, with 1 725, followed by Obonjeni (1 432); Empangeni (1 383); Pinetown |(1 263); Ugu (1 204) and uMlazi (1 193).
Themba Ndlovu, a representative of the South African Council for Educators (SACE), the regulatory body for teachers, said the problem of teen pregnancies could not be resolved overnight.
“It is a very disturbing phenomenon that we are facing as a council,” he said.
“When such things happen, we ask ourselves, ‘Where are we going as a nation if people who have been entrusted with children can do this?’”
Most teachers still cared for the children, Ndlovu emphasised, saying it was a few who were bringing the profession into disrepute.
“These problems are happening in public schools, and between 2011 and 2012 we have had 94 cases of which 22 were sexual offences,” he said.
“There was one of murder, where a teacher who had raped a pupil, out of fear of being caught, murdered the child.”
Ndlovu called on school governing bodies to inform parents “not to sell their children”.
He said parents who accepted money from perpetrators to keep quiet usually did not co-operate with SACE investigators.
“This situation does not look bright for our education,” Ndlovu said.
“We want parents to report these matters. We want to deal with these cases.”