Principals from KwaZulu-Natal working in a special needs school environment have applauded the South African Democratic Teacher Union’s (Sadtu) workshop on how educators can manage situations that involve allegations of sexual abuse or any sexually related offences at school.
Research by a Turkish team at Ondokuz Mayıs University found that learners with special needs have difficulty with communication and conveying emotions.
Given this, special needs learners become more vulnerable to “predators” as telling someone about it may not be the easiest task, all three principals agreed.
The three-day workshop held in Johannesburg from October 24 to 26, 2023 was to educate the selected principals and educators on criminal law when it comes to dealing with sexual offences.
Particularly on legislative amendments regarding sexual offences – Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and related Matters) Amendment Act of 2021 which came into operation on 31 July 2022.
Samke Zulu, Principal of Ethel Mthiyane Special School in the Ilembe District Municipality said the October workshop “was a real eye-opener” and one of the most useful ones she attended.
“The highlight for me was that things which we were oblivious of before, like when it came to rumours about sexual abuse, the workshop taught us to address every small thing even it is is a rumour.
“They said we should report those rumours and what structures to follow in the process.
“What also stood out was that they taught us not to take things personally, because of the nature of these cases and the children involved. The process and investigation must unfold as per the rules to avoid panic,” Zulu said.
Sadtu’s KZN spokesperson Nomarashiya Caluza said the union decided to host the workshop after “hearing more talk” about conditions at special schools in the province.
The principal of VN Naik School for the Deaf in Newlands said the workshop was empowering and useful unlike many she attended “in her day”.
She said the information that was presented during the event helped her understand the sensitivity required when dealing with such a case.
“The time allocated for the workshop, the way it was presented and the information they gave us, you can see they had intent and purpose. It was not just some workshop, they educated us about the legalities when dealing with cases like this, also on things that affect us in management,” she said.
IOL asked if she knew of any instances of abuse at a special school and she responded as follows.
“I cannot tell you even if there are.
“But what I can say is that there are hostels and other housing facilities and sometimes the cases from these hostels are not reported.
“People do not want to be witnesses and these cases often go by without being investigated,” she added.
The principal did not wish to be named.
The special needs schooling environment for a long time needed the level and quality of content managing sexual abuse, which Sadtu delivered, Sahara Jagath, the Principal of Khulangolwazi Special School in Montclair Durban said.
“The person who drafted the actual rules or legislation was the one who presented the workshop. We received it from someone who had first hand knowledge of what it was like to be an essential worker.
“For the first time ever, the union created a national platform for principals and leaders in special schools to come together and share the real problems we are dealing with, a problem that is relevant to our sector.
“In all of my years of teaching, this was one of the most fruitful activities to have ever taken place with regard to the standard and level of interaction.
“In our sector, our children are more vulnerable than ordinary ones. They are easily preyed on by abusers and this was a workshop which gave us insight into this real world problem we are facing,” Jagath explained.