3 June 2012

South Africa: Govt to Develop Strategy to Curb Abuse At Filadelfia School

Soshanguve — Government says it will develop a comprehensive strategy by the end of this year to curb incidents of sexual misconduct at Filadelfia Secondary School in Soshanguve, north of Tshwane.

Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, visited the school on Friday, which has in the past made headlines for reports of sexual offences.

Bogopane-Zulu told BuaNews that her visit to her alma mater was not only to celebrate International Children's Day, but also to ascertain what progress had been made in addressing the issue of sexual misconduct. In 2010, three educators at the school were dismissed by the Gauteng Department of Education after being found guilty of sexual misconduct against learners. A fourth resigned before the case against him could be concluded.

"We also wanted to check if there were systems in place to prevent all forms of abuse at the school's hostel from happening again, as well as check if the school has already established a victim support programme.

"To our surprise and shock, we found that no systems are in place and no criminal charges have been laid against the [educators], even though the Department of Education has already de-registered them as teachers."

The outspoken deputy minister further said 14 disabled learners were pregnant at the school.

"As a matter of urgency, we are going to convene different task teams which will comprise the Department of Social Development, South African Police Services (SAPS) and the Department of Education.

"We want to do all this to ensure that by the end of this year, we have a comprehensive strategy to turn around this school already dubbed the school of shame," she said.

Bogopane-Zulu said they would use the Adopt-a-Cop strategy to create direct reporting channels to the police.

Social Development will conduct an audit at the school hostel to identify students who need help with school uniform and investigate allegations of unhealthy food at the school.

"We also want to convene a meeting with parents and guardians of these learners because we don't want them to shift their own responsibilities to teachers. We are also going to meet with those households adjacent to the school who are selling alcohol to our disabled learners.

"We've also realised that the majority of our disabled learners don't know their rights, so we've planned to commence with human rights workshops on Saturdays," said Bogopane-Zulu.

Gauteng MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development, who is also responsible for Social Development, Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, said: "I'm going to send two social workers to the school to identify learners in need of school uniform.

"I'm committed to ensuring that these learners are treated by both by their teachers and the community fairly and as dignified human beings. We are committed to turn this school to 'disability friendly'."

Mayathula-Khoza said the social workers would also encourage learners to refrain from engaging in sexual activities at an early age to avoid unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Deputy Minister for Higher Education Hlengiwe Mkhize said the visit to the school was an eye-opener: "... I never thought these learners are faced with multiple problems which include emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

"We've set aside R76 million that must be used over a period of three years to train and develop teachers on sign language."

School principal Victoria Mazibuko said the school, which opened in 1985, had 485 visually and hearing impaired learners and learners with physical disabilities.

Amongst the 54 teachers at the school, whose learners come from all over South Africa, only eight teachers had the relevant qualifications and skills in sign language and Braille.

Mazibuko also echoed the student's sentiments that there was minimal learning at the school because some teachers were lazy and not sensitive towards disabled learners.

"We are always sending teachers to both Braille and sign language courses, but we don't see any improvement. We will appreciate it if government can intervene in this regard," she said.

Learners had, during their meeting with Bogopane-Zulu, Mkhize and Mayathula-Khoza, demanded that the teachers leave the hall so they could express their grievances without fear.

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