The parents of the children who were victims in the sexual assault case against a former scholar patrol guard at a primary school in Soweto, Johannesburg, have welcomed the National Prosecuting Authority's (NPA) decision to appeal his acquittal.
Johannes Molefe, 58, was arrested in October 2017 for allegedly raping and sexually harassing school children, aged between five and 13. In court, Molefe faced three counts of rape and 11 of sexual assault and had pleaded not guilty to all of them.
On Thursday, the parents of eight victims gathered at the Nthabiseng Thuthuzela Care Centre at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital where they were receiving counselling following Acting Judge Peet Johnson's verdict.
The sessions at the centre were organised by the Gauteng education department.
"As the parents, we are very hurt. The word hurt actually doesn't even explain the way we are really feeling because we think that the state has failed us by all means," a parent whose daughter is one of the victims said.
The woman said the parents felt that the judgment was unfair to their children, who had suffered severely as a result of the case.
Children worried they will see 'mkhulu'
She said although they were receiving counseling, they were not satisfied at all.
"Yes, we have received counseling today and we are getting all the help, but for him (Molefe) to walk free in this way is really troublesome for us. We ask for justice to be served for our children," the emotional mother said.
She said the children were traumatised and were worried they would see "mkhulu (Molefe)" when they return to school in 2019.
"But as parents we have told them not to worry because he will not come back to our community," she said.
The mother said the situation was causing even more distress for a parent who is neighbours with Molefe and whose child is also a victim in the case.
"The parent and the child are so traumatised. She was even crying, because they are neighbours with him," she said.
During his ruling Johnson heavily criticised the Teddy Bear Clinic for the way it handled the case, saying it may have coached the children into making the admissions. However, the director of the organisation, Dr Shaheda Omar, says this was not the case.
'Judge should have used the support of professionals'
Omar said the challenge in the case was that Johnson was not a mental health professional who understood children's trauma and that there would be discrepancies in their testimonies.
"Often victims of child sexual abuse would give fragmentation and sometimes the information would not correlate with what they are saying," Omar said.
Omar said an expert in the mental health field should have been brought in to assist the judge in understanding what the children were saying.
"Also, understand that the judge should not have based these incidents on his personal opinion but should have utilised the support of professionals trained in this area," she said.
Omar maintained that the Teddy Bear Clinic followed due process and said protocol was adhered to. She said the Teddy Bear Foundation had worked with three of the 11 victims and provided assessments and court preparation for them.
"With those two services that were provided, there is no opportunity for contamination. With court preparation it's not coaching at all. It is enabling the child to understand the court processes," said Omar.
Clinic offers to step in again
She added that in this case, the foundation had shared space with the NPA in the Protea Magistrate's Court and therefore the children were being seen by the prosecutors and counsellors within the same office space and may have been confused.
"When questions were asked, the children had recalled that they had already shared this information at the Teddy Bear Clinic, where there was confusion in terms of boundaries and I'm sure that the judge misunderstood this, coming to the conclusion that there was coaching or contamination," Omar said.
Omar said the clinic understood that there was now secondary trauma and was willing to step in and be of assistance to them again.
"We will definitely step in. We need to ensure the protection of children. We are always looking at the best interest of children and we are willing to serve their interests at all costs," she added.