An emotional Panyaza Lesufi, Gauteng education MEC, on Wednesday struggled to articulate his regret over the alleged sexual assault of 54 pupils by a Soweto scholar patroller.
"I am out of words that the children had to go through this pain in an institution that one is responsible for," said Lesufi, letting out a deep sigh.
Lesufi was speaking in the corridors of an Orlando primary school, whose name is known to News24 but has been withheld to protect the identities of the children, where a guard-cum-scholar patroller was on Tuesday arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting 54 pupils.
Lesufi said the suspect, who is in his 50s and is known to the community, allegedly began assaulting the children, ranging from Grade R to 7, in February.
It is only on September 26 when a grandparent reported an incident to the principal that all educators were instructed to question the pupils.
"That is when they arrived at the number of 54 learners that came and stated their case."
'We will overcome this'
This has prompted the department to ensure that scholar patrollers, who are screened by the department of community safety, are vetted.
"As a department, it is indeed a dark day. If there is a place where our learners need to be happy, it has to be at school and to have 54 learners at one school be victims of one person, it is a sorry state of affairs.
"If we have reached 54, it means all of our systems that need to identify this problem have collapsed at one school, and that means that we now need to broaden the investigation and check other surrounding schools to determine whether this was confined to this school or not.
"I am hugely, hugely disappointed and I am out of words but we will overcome this."
Lesufi said all managers who were informed about the incident would have to account for the delayed response to the incident.
He thanked the Teddy Bear Clinic which was providing counselling to the pupils and teachers.
Pupil felt 'uncomfortable'
On the suspect's modus operandi, Lesufi said the suspect would allegedly pounce on the children near the toilet area.
"One of the learners was going to the toilet and he uttered some statement that a learner felt made them uncomfortable. The learner reported the matter but it was not the first time that the learner was reporting the matter to the grandparent.
"When he came on the 26th to report that umkhulu (grandpa) said A, B, C, D, the grandparent then connected the dots to say that the suspect had been saying that the child has beautiful feet, he wants to be in a relationship with them... that is when the principal requested that the teachers ask the learners."
Gauteng community safety MEC Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane said most of the patrollers were deployed as part of government's expanded public works programme.
After their one-year contract is terminated, the patroller is then moved to another school.
Nkosi-Malobane said in this case, the suspect was recruited by one of the co-ordinators in the local community policing forum.
Community meeting to be held
"After they have exhausted all the patrollers that are vetted, they just take anybody and in this case they took someone who was not vetted and the guy ended up doing what he did to our children."
Orlando Safety Forum's Pinky Moticoe said she had heard about the incident from other children.
"The principal did not take this matter seriously... The problem here is that the teachers take their children to private schools where they are well-secured [and] this is what we have to face."
Moticoe said the community had called a meeting, scheduled to take place on Thursday.
A 46-year-old Orlando resident, who has children at the school, said she was surprised to hear about the incident.
"The department must deal with the issue. We cannot take the children out of the school because it is the end of the year and children will be writing exams," said the mother who was sitting at the entrance of the school.