Fear for rape-accused’s safety

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The children who filed sex abuse complaints against a South Coast principal as part of a plan to allegedly discredit the man. File photo: Independent Newspapers

KwaZulu-Natal - Sensing the “anger in the air”, a Scottburgh magistrate denied bail to a principal accused of raping pupils at his South Coast primary school.

And in his evidence opposing bail, the new investigating officer, Sergeant Bhekithemba Nzama, said one of the victims had received a death threat, and other children had wanted to come forward to lay charges, but said they were too frightened to do so if the principal was out on bail.

The headmaster cannot be identified until he has pleaded to charges of rape, sexual assault and indecent exposure.

Magistrate Giel van Aarde said on Thursday he was convinced that should the principal be released, his life would be in danger “the minute he left the court building”.

“I don’t want a situation where the public takes the law into their own hands,” he said.

“There are no exceptional circumstances for me to release the accused that would outweigh the interests of justice. There are female folk that are extremely angry, understandably so,” he added.

“I request all of you to stay calm and let the law take its course.”

Nzama testified that one of the victims had received a death threat via a cellphone call.

The anonymous caller told the pupil that should she pursue her case against the principal, she would die. Nzama said he was working on tracing the number.

He also said there were other victims who wanted to come forward and lodge a case against the principal, but would only do so if he stayed in jail because they were afraid.

“Should he be released, there’s also a fear that he would threaten the pupils who’ve already come forward. Even if he is relocated, wherever he goes, there will be children,” Nzama said.

He also testified that his Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit, based in Umlazi, deals with an average of six rape cases daily in the Umgababa area, on the South Coast. Van Aarde expressed shock at the figure.

In argument for bail, contained in the principal’s affidavit read out to the court by his attorney, Sthembiso Mbhele, the principal dismissed the charges as being part of a smear campaign that began in 2007 where he was accused of impregnating a 17-year-old pupil. He said the teen later admitted that he was not the father of her baby.

“My colleagues at the school had contacted Childline alleging that I had raped the girl and that I had bribed family members so that she could go for an abortion,” he said in his affidavit. “This incident, they alleged, took place at school, as it is also alleged in this case.”

The father of four said he was also accused of “sleeping with young school girls”.

He said he had laid a complaint at the eMkhomazi (Umkomaas) SAPS about false allegations that had damaged his reputation. He alleged that a parent had informed him, a few days before his arrest, of a plan to get rid of him and warned him that he would be arrested.

The principal was arrested on November 5 at the school. The alleged offences took place between 2010 and this year, and came to light when police were conducting a sexual abuse awareness campaign at the school.

Pupils told the police they were raped in the principal’s office.

Last Monday, after the 44-year-old principal’s case was adjourned, chaos followed outside court when his 22-year-old relative was arrested for assaulting the investigating officer, Constable TP Ndlovu.

The court heard on Thursday that Ndlovu was hit on her upper right arm and ear and was only discharged from hospital on Wednesday. She had told the new investigating officer, Nzama, that she could not hear in her injured ear.

The relative, believed to the principal’s daughter, cannot be named because it would identify the principal who has not yet pleaded. She appeared in court last week, shortly after the alleged assault, and is currently on bail to appear again in court on November 26.

Van Aarde said just by assessing the public outcry last week, as well as the crowd on Thursday, he could “feel the anger in the air”.

He asked what would the state of society be if parents were afraid to send their girls to school – not because of what the boys would do to them, but the teachers.

The principal argued on Thursday that for financial reasons, he should be released on bail, as he needed to work to pay for legal counsel for his trial.

The accused said he owned a business with offices in Mayville, Durban.

He said he also needed to support his wife and children.

Mbhele told the court his client had not been suspended from his position as principal.

Volunteers from an organisation that works to rehabilitate sexually abused children were overjoyed at the ruling.

“We don’t have enough words to thank the magistrate for doing right for the children, who are doing well at their place of safety,” said sisters Ladyfair and Thuli Sibiya of Bobbi Bear. - Daily News


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