The mother of a 13-year-old girl who was allegedly gang-raped by three senior boys in an Eastern Cape school hostel says in spite of many promises of support and counselling from the Eastern Cape education department, her daughter has been left to fend for herself.
The incident in early June was only reported on July 1. Three boys have since been arrested and released on bail.
“The Department of Education keeps making promises, but nobody arrives to keep those promises. The district director called me last week and said they only heard what happened and will send someone to assist my daughter. Nobody came.”
Now the girl has another fear: “They want her to give a statement and attend the disciplinary meeting on Tuesday. My child is full of fear to return to school, even if it is for part of the investigation. They already have a statement at court. Why don’t they use that one?
“There will be no professional person to assist her on Tuesday. She will have to relive that terrible day by telling what happened or making another statement. What if my daughter collapses from the stress and trauma?” she asked.
While the criminal and education department’s investigations continue, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has entered the fray with an investigation into the allegations.
The commission’s Dr Eileen Carter said four boys were present when the incident took place, but only three were charged.
“We noted from media reports what is alleged to have happened and on Monday proceeded to the secondary school near Komani to assess … what transpired,” said Carter.
The commission has ascertained that the incident took place in the boys’ section of the hostel. “Four boys requested the 13-year old join them in their room about 50m from the hostel entrance. They then walked with the learner — one boy specifically — towards a back room and that’s where the incident occurred.
“Three of the boys have since been implicated in the incident while the fourth was not because he was just present in the room.”
Carter and the SAHRC have several concerns. “From information received by doing interviews there was allegedly no supervisor on the ground floor. In fact, there was only one supervisor for the boys’ hostel, a two-storey building, and that supervisor stayed on the top floor. So there was no-one on the older boys’ floor to monitor who goes in and who goes out,” Carter said.
Another concern for the SAHRC was the CCTV cameras in the hostel were not working.
“There were CCTV cameras, but because of load-shedding it appears these cameras were not in working order. The people we interviewed did, however, indicate that even if load-shedding did not occur, the cameras were still not working because the boys tamper with the hardware.”
Carter does not believe the incident took place during a bout of load-shedding. “We are concerned that safeguards are not being put in place or thought of when load-shedding occurs. So what is the plan of action at schools and hostels when it does and do we have enough supervision in hostels in areas where children may be alone during these blackouts to make sure their interests are not compromised?”
She said the commission was told that social development was notified and assumed the department would make contact with the victim.
“We did learn this morning that had not occurred, which is extremely worrying. That the victim has not yet received counselling is a huge red flag.”
She felt that the victim was not the only child at the school in need of help.
“We also indicated to the school that not only the victim required counselling, but every single learner in that school. To know what steps need to be taken when an incident such as this occurs. What are the steps to follow to report? What other steps can one follow to obtain support from the administration at the school?”
Carter said cries for help did not entirely fall on deaf ears.
“What I can tell you is that the supervisor from the girls’ hostel was very reactive, very responsive to the needs of the children, and she reported this immediately and took measures so this matter could be formalised within 24 hours. We do take note of her swift action and we do commend her.”
Carter said “We need to have a bigger discussion. “We are reeling from the incident in Scenery Park and now we are reeling from this incident. We really need to start looking at the interests of our children above and beyond everything else.”
The Eastern Cape education department could not immediately be reached for comment.