/ 14 June 2008

System fails child rape victim

Education Department labelled the rape ‘child’s play’

When an eight-year-old boy from Worcester told his teacher and his mother that he was repeatedly raped, beaten and threatened with hanging by children at his school, the Education Department launched an investigation, put it down to kinderspeletjies (child’s play) and closed the case.

The police have served the young victim no better. Since July last year the docket has been missing. Police blunders forced the boy’s mother to give her statement three times and because the boy’s statement was taken down incorrectly it is inadmissible.

”We can’t investigate until the boy is well enough to make a statement,” said Captain Mzikayase Maloi, police spokesperson in Worcester.

But Buti*, now nine, won’t be talking to the police soon. In November last year he was institutionalised at the Therapeutic Learning Centre, attached to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.

Buti’s mother heard recently that the damage to her son’s psyche is so extreme that he may require live-in treatment for up to a year longer.

The mother, who cannot be identified, said this week: ”He is a different little boy now — he’s angry, he doesn’t want to talk to me and he refuses to pray. He says ‘die Here praat kak [the Lord speaks shit].”’

Buti’s story is an indictment of how the system has failed to protect — or even take seriously — cases such as his.

A case of rape was opened at the Worcester police station on July 13 last year — the day Buti made a sworn statement about what had happened to him at school and after-care.

He told officers the abuse and rape went on for months before he broke down and told a teacher at the Worcester Voorbereidingskool, where he was then in grade three.

”In the toilet or in the bushes behind the school, they made me take my clothes off and lie on my back — or my stomach — They took turns to put their ”piepies [penises]” into my bum — It also happened lots of times that they wanted to kill me because they wanted me to hang myself from the tree,” the boy said in his statement.

Buti said he was also told to put his ”piepie” into some of the other boys ”and, when I didn’t want to, they threatened to stab me with a knife — they forced me to do [to other kids] what they did to me.”

During his first school term last year Buti began wetting his bed, crying when he had to go to school and running away from school to his mother’s workplace. His mother said she could not get him to tell her what was wrong.

In May last year he finally broke down and confided in one of his teachers.

Speaking on condition of anonymity the teacher told the Mail & Guardian: ”He said that they made him take his clothes off and would laugh at him. They would punch him and kick him.

”He sat weeping on my lap and wet himself, telling me they made him do ‘dirty’ things and made him ‘ougat‘ [a sex object]. He was very traumatised and had a complete meltdown.”

The teacher said the boys Buti mentioned had confessed to her. ”One started crying, put his arms around Buti and said he was sorry. Buti just said, ‘I don’t want to be your friend any more’.”

The next day Buti’s mother met the school principal, Ronel Smit, who also called in the children.

Said the mother: ”After the boys confessed to beating up my child and trying to kill him, the head said they should apologise and we should pray and put this incident behind us.”

Smit told the M&G this week she was ”not allowed to tell the whole story”.

Buti’s mother contacted the director of education in the Cape Winelands district, Clifton Frolick, who promised a full investigation.

Speaking to the M&G this week Frolick said the department conducted a three-month investigation and the matter was considered closed.

Putting Buti’s rape claims down to ”kinderspeletjies”, Frolick said the department found no evidence of assault and that ”my information coming from the headmistress is that there was no abuse”.

Six weeks after Buti was removed from Worcester Voorbereidingskool by his mother he told a social worker during a counselling session that his tormentors had taken him to the ”back of the school” where two ”bergies” also raped him.

In a highly irregular move — and without alerting Buti’s mother — the social worker called the police, who took the eight-year-old in a police van to search for the two men, who were found and arrested.

Said Buti’s mother: ”They were apparently shouting that Buti is lying and my child was so terrified that evening that he didn’t sleep. The next day he drank a whole bottle of pills, trying to kill himself.”

The two ”bergies” have since been released.

* Not his real name