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Johannesburg - Three teachers from the same Gauteng school have been suspended for alleged sexual misconduct against their pupils - the latest in a litany of sexual offences by teachers being probed by the Department of Basic Education.
The teachers, all from Phahama Secondary School in Mohlakeng near Randfontein on the West Rand, were suspended last month.
According to sources at the school, the teachers were suspended following complaints by eight girls. Among the suspended teachers is the head of department of life orientation (LO), a life sciences and LO teacher, and a maths teacher.
Last year, four teachers from another school in the township, AB Phokompe Secondary, were suspended for allegedly having sexual relationships with pupils.
Gauteng Department of Education spokesman Charles Phahlane confirmed on Tuesday that three teachers at Phahama Senior Secondary School had been placed on “precautionary suspensions”.
They were among 10 teachers being investigated for cases of sexual misconduct against pupils in Gauteng since the beginning of the year. At least 126 cases of sexual misconduct, which include rape, were reported last year - up from 78 the previous year.
The identities of the suspended teachers at Phahama Senior Secondary are known to The Star, but their names are being withheld for legal reasons.
On a visit to the school, The Star saw several pregnant girls. At least five girls are said to be pregnant, while three others have given birth since the beginning of the year.
On Tuesday, Education MEC Barbara Creecy expressed concern at the loss of valuable learning time and the greater health risk faced by teenagers who fall pregnant. She said the latest annual schools survey in Gauteng indicated that 4 217 pupils out of 1 040 762 fell pregnant in 2011. This was a 20 percent decrease from 2008, when 4 874 girls out of 953 175 fell pregnant.
At Phahama, fingers have been wagged at some teachers for sexually harassing pupils and, in some incidents, having sexual relationships with them.
The lid on the alleged sexual misconduct, sources said, was first lifted in October last year when a pupil reported an alleged sexual harassment by a teacher to a learner representative council (LRC) member.
“The girl complained that the teacher was pestering her and that she was finding it difficult focusing in class,” said the source.
The LRC member approached the principal, who reported the matter to the district office. This prompted investigation.
“While they (district officials) were interviewing the girl (who had complained), seven other girls came forward.
“They testified that they too were being sexually harassed or abused by teachers in question,” said one source.
The teachers were placed on precautionary suspension on February 7.
The suspensions are said to have been a closely guarded secret, but pupils are starting to ask questions about the matter.
“The learners are starting to question why their teachers are missing from school. It’s the worst-kept secret,” said another source.
The fact that the head of LO is among the suspended teachers appears to have worsened matters.
“Imagine the very same educator who teaches our children about sex education, teenage pregnancy and the dangers of dating older men also doing the same thing he preaches against. It’s just so wrong,” said one pupil.
A parent said: “One of these guys (teachers) used to tell us during meetings that such and such a number of children were pregnant. He said we as parents should not shy away from teaching them about sex education at home. Now this. It’s not only hypocritical, but immoral.”
Phahama deputy principal Charles Harmse refused to comment.
National Association of School Governing Bodies secretary-general Matakanye Matakanye called for stricter action against the teachers if they were found guilty. “If found guilty, they must be struck off the roll.
“Our position is very clear that sexual relationships with children by teachers is a crime. It doesn’t matter whether it is consensual or not,” he said.
Phahlane stressed that the department did not tolerate sexual misconduct.
“The MEC has made it clear that any case of sexual relationship with a learner is an abuse of authority. Such educators must be suspended and dealt with. When they are found guilty, we also report them to the South African Council of Educators so that they can be barred from teaching at any school in the country.”
According to section 17 of the SA Schools Act, “an educator must be dismissed if he or she is found guilty of… having a sexual relationship with a learner of the school where he or she is employed…”