The South African Council of Educators (Sace) told the parliamentary portfolio committee on basic education last year that in the 2019-20 financial year it had recorded 92 cases related to sexual misconduct, rape, indecent assault, sexual assault and sexual harassment.
In the end, 17 teachers were found guilty of sexual abuse. In 2019, Sace told the same committee that reports of sexual abuse by teachers had risen by more than 230% in the past five years. These included rape.
Every year when releasing its annual report, Sace never fails to report on the sexual misconduct of teachers. In its reports, the council highlights how some of these cases end up being withdrawn by the learners because the teachers bribe the families to back off by giving them groceries or money. This happens mostly in rural areas.
The media has also reported extensively about how girls, in particular, are victims of sexual abuse by schoolteachers.
On Monday, addressing learners at the Nellmapius Secondary School in Pretoria on the occasion of the first day of school, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said: “This government has prioritised education because it knows that it is only through education that we can deal with some of our challenges that are here. Because an educated man won’t rape, akere?”
The learners disagreed.
Motshekga then said: “Ooh, do they?” The learners said they did. “Ooh, I thought they needed to be civilised not to do such things. Now I am disappointed … So my theory is that the more educated, the more sophisticated you are, the less you get involved in wrong things, because you can look after yourself, you can look after your family, you can look after your environment.”
She proceeded to tell the learners why they needed to take their time at school seriously — because the teachers were also sacrificing their time and that of their families to provide them with extra lessons.
What Motshekga said to those learners was reckless and deeply problematic. As the Sace reports show, girls are victims of sexual abuse and rape by teachers at many schools. What must a learner say or do after being raped by an “educated” teacher? Do they report the crime or keep it to themselves, because it was done by someone who, according to the minister, is not capable of doing such a thing.
Motshekga’s statement reeked of ignorance. Rape in this country is a serious problem and it knows no class, level of education or skin colour. The crime stats of 2019-20 recorded 42 289 rape cases, up from 41 583 in 2018-19.
According to Africa Check, a nonprofit fact checking organisation, this means police record 116 rapes a day.
According to the latest crime stats, rape and sexual assault contributed 93.9% of the total of sexual offences. And, some of the places where the rapes occurred were in educational institutions, office parks and government buildings. If we go by Motshekga’s reasoning, the 42 289 rapes were committed by uneducated men who are not civilised; and who happen to find themselves in education facilities, government buildings and office parks.
On the same day she addressed the Pretoria school, her office received calls from the media. Motshekga released a statement saying that her remarks were “taken out of context”. And that her words were spoken in relation to gender-based violence and that she was educating the learners on “power relations between men and women of a young age”.
“Men need to be educated about how to deal with power, patriarchy and negative or toxic masculinity. Educating men about power relations is also important in the fight against rape,” said Motshekga in her statement.
After reading Motshekga’s statement, I would say in my home language of isiXhosa, “Sithi othonqo”, which, loosely translated, means we are being taken for fools.
Instead of acknowledging and apologising for her gross remarks, Motshekga gave everyone aggrieved by them the middle finger. She is being disingenuous when she says that she was teaching learners about gender-based violence — and she knows it. The rest of her talk to the learners was clearly to encourage them to stay in school, not waste their teachers’ time and so forth. But then, many politicians act as if they are not accountable to anyone. They can do and say anything and get away with it. Shameful.