Sexual harassment is part of high school initiation

Roshilla Pillay reports on a disturbing orientation programme at a school in Springs, Johannesburg

For the past 20 years, ontgroening (initiation) at Springs Hoërskool Hugenote took place in the following manner: The prefects march the grade 8 boys to the rugby field and asked them where their “hugie” is. Pupils attending this school are known as “hugies”. The boys are then told it is between their legs and that they should lie face-down on the ground and “pump for water with your sexuality”.

This is grade 8 pupil David’s* torrid account of his second day at high school. David’s friend Michael* recalled how he had to clutch his genitalia during break for each of the nine days that made up initiation week. “I felt bad. I felt I couldn’t complain; if you complain to a prefect, they tell you that you have no choice.”

David’s foster father has placed David in a private school. “David was sexually abused by his parents. I should not have to tell the school this—their orientation programme should be planned in such a way that it does not offend any child from any walk of life,” he said.

For these 13-year-old boys, the transition from primary school to high school has been marred by their first experience in the school which they will attend for the next five years. The story made headlines when David’s foster father decided to transfer his son to a private school. When the school arranged for two grade eight pupils to speak to the The Teacher, their descriptions matched. Both pupils described the initiation as “lekker”.

The school denies any allegations of sexual harassment. “The child was definitely not sexually harassed. He was part of a group of about 120 children. They were asked to lie on their tummies, and simulate a lovemaking motion, using their bums to pump for water. The kids who did not want to {participate] had to run around the rugby field,” said Rocky Cronje, the school’s governing body chairman.

However, Patricia Jansen, senior lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Department of Psychology, said the ceremony was disturbing. “I would question the purpose of such behaviour. Clearly some of the children are perturbed and while some children may be able to cope, others may not,” said Jansen.

The parent of a former grade 9 pupil confirmed that her son’s friends experienced the same “orientation” last year. Although the pupil was not present that day, his mother said she would have “closed the school down” had her son been present. Meanwhile the investigation into the incident was in shambles. While a letter from the school’s headmistress, Annetjie Fourie, to David’s father said that a disciplinary enquiry found the prefects involved guilty of misconduct, it seems that the restructuring of the regional education department will curb any further action. Although, the incident has been investigated, it appears that another investigation will now take place. “I am going to assign this case and get someone who used to be in the Springs district to give us more information,” said Nelson Moloko, the district deputy director for curriculum in the East Rand East.

David’s father has threatened to take legal action against the school. “I have sought legal advice. I will pursue [a case against the school] depending on what the final report says. A mere apology will not do,” he said.

*Names have been changed to protect the children’s identity

—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, March, 2001.

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