The case of Mafikeng High School

While everyone, myself included, has been caught up in the Mangaung drama – where it has been made clear to us mere members of the citizenry that we can look forward to another term of President Jacob Zuma at the helm of the ANC and the country – life as we know it has carried on regardless, and in doing so some rather interesting manifestations of what it means to be human have revealed themselves.

Last week in the capital of the North West province, Mafikeng, a school teacher was expelled. The decision was unanimous, taken by the governing body of the school where she taught. Her crime, for lack of a better word, was a sexual relationship that she carried out with a 16-year-old student at the school.

She resigned before a disciplinary hearing could take place and was subsequently absent from the handing down of the decision by the school governing body. The evidence against her was damning to say the least.

The boy’s mother found video footage on his mobile phone and the rest, as they say, is history.

The school in question is Mafikeng High School or Hoërskool Mafikeng, depending on your mood. I attended Mafikeng High, from grade nine to grade 12.

I walked its passages, sat in its classrooms, sang in its assembly hall, played on its fields and left a name on its walls. So it was with a pinch of emotion that I reacted to the news last week.

Coincidentally I had seen an episode of Law & Order a few days before. The case involved a female school teacher whose relationship with a teenage student had led to all kinds of trouble. The teenager professed his undying love for the women who was over 10 years his senior.

Certainly, here was a real life case before my very eyes and certainly it too had led to all kinds of trouble, though I doubt murder is amongst them. To be honest, I was not sure whether to laugh or express some form of outrage at the time, but in hindsight it is with a level of seriousness that I consider it.

There was a rather disappointing form of outrage towards this case. It did not feature that much in the news nor did it lead to any particularly detailed radio or television talk-show discussions or debates – at least not any that I am aware of.  

Understandably, much of the news of the week centred on the health of former president Nelson Mandela – whether or not he was actually in the hospital where government said he was or if his health was indeed in the clear. The other news hoarder was obviously Mangaung.

But what touched me the most about this story was the issue of abuse of trust, which had not been adequately dealt with. For those who were disgusted, outraged or disappointed allow me to say that Mafikeng High School is but a drop of water in the ocean when it comes to such abuses. It further hints at an attitude that is rather unbecoming in our society; the seeming lack of sufficient outrage that such an occasion warranted.

Is it because the student in question was male and the teacher who failed him and the parents was female? Had we been dealing with a male teacher, married as the aforementioned teacher was, having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female student – or better yet a male student, what exactly would the public reaction have been then?  

South African law maintains that 16 is the age of consent and the popular fallacy holds that “boys will be boys”. It is plausible to say that our teenage student is not as much a victim as many knee jerk reactions would suggest. That said, however, we now have one less teacher in a country that does not boast a great educational track record as is.

What will the Department of Education do about these occurrences or the many female students seen attending schools pregnant only to drop out and never return? Something is not right with this picture. No parent sends their child to a school without the cautious faith that the school, through its teachers, will ensure their safety and wellbeing. 

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Mpho Moshe Matheolane
Mpho Moshe Matheolane is a Motswana from the little town of Mahikeng. He is a budding academic, researcher and writer with interests in art, history, semiotics and law. He sits on the Constitutional Court Artworks Committee – a clear case of serendipity – and is a firm believer in the power of an informed and active citizenry.

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