Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education and children’s rights groups have applauded the handing down of three life sentences to a “barbaric” teacher who repeatedly raped an 11-year-old schoolgirl.
Nkosingiphile Hlekwayo, 50, was convicted by the Empangeni Regional Court last week of raping the Grade 6 pupil on three separate occasions in August 2009, said police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker.
The grandfather and father of five was arrested the day that the girl told her parents about the rapes. The SAPS Family, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit in Empangeni investigated the allegations.
Hlekwayo, who had taught at a primary school in northern KZN, will be placed on the National Register of Sexual Offenders.
Department spokesman Muzi Mhlambi welcomed the three life terms, saying he hoped the sentence would serve as a deterrent to “anyone even contemplating such a thing”.
He said the department had been confident that justice would be served by removing the “animal posing as an educator” from society.
However, this would do nothing to heal the psychological and emotional scars the child, now 15, had suffered, said Jackie Branfield, founder of child abuse lobby group Bobbi Bear.
“This leads to all sorts of dysfunction. What was most unfortunate is that she is likely to feel there is something dirty about her that made him rape her. She will need extensive and appropriate therapy and will be dealing with this for years to come,” said Branfield.
She said she was heartened by the sentence, and called for similar punishment for people in authority who committed such heinous crimes. “It’s about time the justice system is seen to be doing something right by our abused girls.”
The girl would most likely blame herself for the teacher’s incarceration, feeling guilty for taking him away from his family, she said.
“Over the years I have seen many survivors, nine out of 10, blame themselves for the circumstances the perpetrator finds himself in.”
Branfield said the child was also likely to suffer low self-esteem and her ability to become a “functional sexual wife is absolutely destroyed”.
Childline’s Joan van Niekerk said the assessment of children after abuse was a specialised activity.
“We can’t say how this will impact her nor judge the level of her trauma,” she said. “At this age, a child does not realise the implications and meaning of what has been done to her. She will need treatment well into the age of understanding.”
Van Niekerk said the victim’s ability to recover from the emotional damage would depend on continuing therapy and support from her family.
The sentence made it clear that society would not tolerate this kind of offence against children.
“This man used his position of trust as a teacher to exploit this young girl,” she said, adding this would have been an aggravating factor in sentencing. “We need to take a clear and severe line against this kind of thing.”
Mhlambi said Hlekwayo had been entrusted with the safety of the child at school. “For him to turn around and betray that trust is barbaric.”
Naicker said the teacher’s family had allegedly approached the parents of the girl and promised to give them money or cattle if they withdrew the case.
“The victim’s parents refused to do so and they allegedly received death threats,” he said.
“The victim (was) taken to a place of safety until the case was finalised.”
Provincial police commissioner Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni said: “It is absolutely appalling to hear of such incidents where so-called elderly and well-respected individuals abuse young children.
“We are pleased that in this case the child’s parents stood by her and resisted the temptation to withdraw the case.”