‘Teacher called my daughter a witch’

Pupils in a classroom. (Gustav Butles)

Pupils in a classroom. (Gustav Butles)

The family of an Eastern Cape primary school pupil has obtained a court order against a teacher they allege has been tormenting their child by calling her a witch.

Ayanda Ndlazi, 7, who was in grade two at Masijongane Primary School in Ndevane outside King William’s Town, dropped out of school last year because she feared her teacher.

It is unusual for a pupil to get a court order against a teacher over alleged abuse. But cases of abuse by teachers are not unusual.
The South African Council of Educators’ 2016/2017 annual report shows that, of the 678 complaints the council dealt with, 113 were for verbal abuse, victimisation, harassment and defamation.

Ayanda’s mother, Nomfundiso Ndlazi, said the teacher started calling her daughter names, hit her with a pipe on her head and told Ayanda to cut off her dreadlocks because they stank.

The abuse intensified, according to Ndlazi, which led to Ayanda not going to school in February last year. “She woke me up at 11pm and said I must take her to another school because the teacher is treating her badly and other children laugh at her. She told me that the teacher called her a witch. The teacher said she must not look at her in the mouth when she speaks.” Ndlazi said she had told the teacher that her daughter had a hearing impediment and had to lip read.

But the spokesperson for the provincial education department, Malibongwe Mtima, said an internal investigation by the department found there was no substance to the allegations. He said the department had suggested solutions to resolve the situation.

Ndlazi said the abuse started in April 2016 after the teacher failed to make it as an acting school principal.

Ndlazi alleges that the teacher blamed her for not getting the position because she was the chairperson of the school governing body at the time. But she said the school governing body unanimously decided that another teacher be given the job.

Ndlazi said she had repeatedly reported the case to the school and to the department of education circuit office, without success.

Last week, with the help of the children’s rights organisation, Khula Community Development Project, Ndlazi got an interim court order from the Zwelitsha magistrate’s court, restraining the teacher from assaulting and emotionally abusing Ayanda. The child returned to school on Thursday after being at home for more than a year.

Khula’s director Petros Majola said obtaining a protection order was a last-resort action, and it had been taken because they believed the provincial education department had failed to put the child’s interests first.

He said the organisation learnt of the situation in March last year and ever since then had sought an intervention from the provincial department. When Khula and Ndlazi had suggested that the teacher be transferred to another school the department said Ayanda should move to another school.

Mtima said it was not true that the department failed to intervene in the matter. He said Ndlazi and Khula had refused the interventions the department had suggested.

“We said we would transfer the teacher to another class. We also initiated a reconciliation process between the teacher and the mother to talk about things, but the mother and Majola refused all our interventions. They wanted us to remove the teacher from the school, but we cannot jeopardise the future of 264 children for one child,” said Mtima.

He said the department was glad Ayanda was back at school, and that a letter had been written to the teacher warning that any complaints against her would result in a disciplinary process that could lead to her being fired. 

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