‘It’s a difficult thing for a man to contain. It’s like a violation, it’s like an attack.”
This was how a Sydenham father described his reaction to discovering nude photographs and sexually suggestive messages from a 33-year-old teacher on his 14-year-old daughter’s phone.
“I felt angry. I felt that she had been violated, it was a total abuse,” he said. “But I just resolved myself to channel the anger and the rage that was welling up inside me into a campaign to stop this man”.
The teacher was suspended last week and is scheduled to appear in court today to face criminal charges relating to sexual grooming of a minor and child pornography.
The girl’s father said he realised something was wrong when he dropped into his daughter’s play rehearsal one afternoon and discovered the teacher had asked her to stay behind afterwards.
“He was trying to get her alone,” he said. “I don’t think she realised how evil this all was.”
But he did, and he took his daughter home, where it emerged that her teacher had been sending her inappropriate messages.
“He got more and more seedy as you scrolled down through the chats,” the father said, “And she was clearly uncomfortable”.
He said the teacher portrayed himself as a “father figure” or a counsellor to young girls, and had exploited that to foster a relationship with his daughter.
“He’d even said to her that he was no longer a ‘womaniser’ and was going to wait for her to turn 18 and marry her,” he said.
The MEC for Education in KwaZulu-Natal, Mthandeni Dlungwana, sent a delegation to visit the school on Friday. Yesterday he said the department viewed these matters in a serious light.
“As soon as we get any indication that there’s been such an incident, we act swiftly,” he said, “We want to ensure that we protect the pupils and we want to ensure that the parents know their kids are safe in our hands.”
Last month, The Mercury reported that the MEC had fired 300 teachers for misconduct and suspended four senior managers since June last year.
Dlungwana said 25% of these were teachers who had been found to be having inappropriate relationships with and abusing pupils.
“We are getting serious and that’s why we’ve suspended this teacher. We wanted to send a strong message,” he said.
He emphasised that the Sydenham teacher was part of a small minority, adding that the department was going to launch a new programme to make it easier for pupils to report abuse.
“It will allow our pupils to speak to us directly,” he said, “Because they might want to report something but not know how to”.
Jackie Branfield, founder of Operation Bobbi Bear, said child abuse at the hands of teachers was “absolutely disgusting”.
“Teachers are in loco parentis,” she said. “The betrayal is phenomenal.”
She said teachers who were guilty of this were taking advantage of children, because at school they were taught to obey the teachers. .
She said this was more common than people realised and it crossed all divides.
The general secretary for the SA Democratic Teachers Union, Mungwenya Maluleka, said yesterday that men who had sexual relations with schoolchildren could not remain in schools.
“We cannot afford to protect criminals any more,” Maluleka said. “These are people who are abusing and exploiting the socio-economic situation of our children because they come from working-class families”.