Drama pupils shocked by a question relating to baby rape in a matric exam paper were unprepared, examination authorities said on Wednesday.
Umalusi, the external quality assurance council that approved the exam, said dramatic arts was a subject that aimed to equip pupils by freeing their minds of bigotry and prejudice.
"That some learners by implication were offended by the question means the outcomes of the subject were not achieved," spokesperson Lucky Ditaunyane said in a statement.
"[T]herefore the learners are conceptually conflating and fudging the real issue of not being test wise and test prepared in dealing with the levels of difficulty and complexity of the test items."
Some pupils, teachers, and parents were reportedly upset by a question that asked pupils how best to dramatically represent the rape of a baby, symbolically using a loaf of bread and a broomstick.
The exam question was based on Lara Foot Newton's play Tshepang, based on real events.
Ditaunyane said Umalusi's subject experts and moderators were sensitive to issues of national concern such as rape, violence, and abuse. Adding that it was also important to consider that great dramatic works were contextual, historical, and socially relevant.
The exam question was about how a social issue could be made theatrically engaging, Ditaunyane said.
Earlier, the basic education department said in a statement that it would consider excluding the question from the exam.
"To ensure that no candidate has been negatively affected, the department will mark a sample of the scripts of learners from all nine provinces … to establish any possible disadvantage to the candidates," it said.
"If there is evidence that candidates have been affected by this question, the question will be excluded from the question paper and the marking guidelines will be adjusted accordingly."
Within the prescripts
The department said the examiners and moderators responsible for the exam question were within the prescripts of the curriculum.
The purpose of the question was to assess pupils' understanding of an "action metaphor".
"The horror and aversion the audience feels is achieved without resorting to an actual rape … Nowhere is it expected of the candidate to have to literally describe the actual act of raping a nine-month-old baby."
The department believed that matric pupils, as young adults, were aware of South African social issues.
According to the department, the internal moderator said the pupils were expected to explain how the broomstick and bread could be used to make an audience feel the horror of child rape, using props, lighting, sound, and stage directions.
"[The question] is valid and fair because the rape of babies is a relevant societal issue." – Sapa