The recent announcement by Gauteng premier David Makhura to appoint a special cabinet committee to look into the spate of sexual assault at several schools in the province should provide some respite to the embattled education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi. Lesufi has always been on the ground responding to issues such as racism and school violence, to mention just two.
He will now draw on the support of his colleagues in MECs for Community Safety, Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane and Social Development, Nandi Mayathula-Khoza. They will also rope in the relevant NGOs to carry out gender education at schools.
When he received the news of the sexual molestation of 87 girl learners at AB Xuma Primary School in Soweto, it sounded like an isolated incident. He never imagined it will open the floodgates of similar misdeeds.
The hands-on MEC leapt into action immediately suspending the school management team for failing to pick up the problem. He also called in a specialist team of psychologists from the Teddy Bear Foundation to provide counselling to the affected learners. He then convened and addressed an emotionally-charged parents and community meeting at the school. He vowed, in the presence of the parents, that he would immediately overhaul the existing vetting system and install more cameras.
On the day the alleged 58-year-old culprit appeared in court, yet again Lesufi received depressing news that a 28-year-old guard allegedly raped a teenage girl at Mahube Valley Secondary School in Mamelodi, Tshwane. This was followed by two more reports of sexual assault at schools in Hammanskraal and Bronkhortspruit. Recent cases involved two girls from Benoni and West Rand respectively.
In his reaction, Lesufi sounded genuinely angry, touched and embarrassed. He remorsefully and publicly confessed: “We failed your children”, adding that he, together with the school management where the abuses occurred, take full responsibility for what happened.
He personally got involved to put out the raging sexual molestation fires; a hallmark of true leadership. But in doing this Lesufi also emotionally exposed himself. Handling such weighty and emotionally taxing issues in quick succession must have taken a heavy emotional toll on him.
Shaheda Omar, an experienced psychologist, concurs. “Anyone who has been heavily involved with a process such as the recent sexual abuse cases would have definitely been affected and traumatised,” said Omar.
She said, naturally, as people, we tend to immerse ourselves in and empathise with the victim. And as we do this, she said, we get sucked in emotionally. Omar recommends, in such situations, that people should “de-role” and “de-brief”. She said even psychologists, go for debriefing and therapy sessions after dealing with serious cases. Given Lesufi’s level of exposure and involvement in the recent sexual abuse cases, there is a sense that he too should get de-briefed and rejuvenate himself.
That is why the formation of the committee would go some way to lessen the pressure he has been under. According to premier Makhura, the committee’s first task will be to meet with school principals, governing bodies, station commanders, community policing forums and patrollers to tighten security and safety at schools. The intervention measures will also focus on re-vetting of all 6000 patrollers. The government will resource the police with more officers and vehicles and the appointment of Life Orientation educators as the first contact for reporting.
“We are perturbed and angered by these horrific crimes against our children which are committed in schools and in communities in general. The sexual abuse, molestation and rape of girl children follow the same trend as the violence, rape and killing of women in general and young in particular. “We must confront this scourge with all the arsenals and resources we have and bring the perpetrators to book. We need a comprehensive response by the police, communities, households and all relevant authorities,” said Makhura.
The re-introduction of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS) as the specialised police unit and increasing resource allocation to fight crimes against women and children was yielding positive results, said Makhura. He said the FCS is one of the major success stories because of the high rate of arrests and successful prosecution of perpetrators.
“Gender-based violence and crimes against women and children is a societal scourge based on patriarchy. It can only be eradicated through a comprehensive partnership between law enforcement agencies, communities and other decision-makers in society to promote gender equity and bring to book those who commit crimes against women and children,” said Makhura.