The Sunday News
Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
PARENTS with children at Rhodes Estate Preparatory School (REPS) in Matobo District, Matabeleland South are up in arms with school authorities following the “disappearance” of the assistant boarding master who is alleged to have raped two pupils.
The matter was discovered just before schools closed for the first term on 4 June. The assistant boarding master who is believed to have skipped the border to South Africa is wanted by the police following a report made to the police.
“The matter was reported about three weeks back. The perpetrator has escaped and the police are yet to account for him,” acting Matabeleland South police spokesman Assistant Inspector Thabani Mkhwananzi said without shedding more details.
A source within the school also confirmed the matter.
“The guy had been having sexual intercourse with the girls on several occasions. He was in sexual ‘relationships’ with the girls, that is what we have gathered. The matter came to light after the head girl of the school got wind of the abuse and reported the case to the school authorities. She informed the matron who investigated the matter and revealed that he was indeed sexually abusing the girls. He then ran away after he heard that he was being investigated. He also made a confession too, but managed to run away before police were involved.”
The matter of the alleged rape was publicised through a notice from the School’s Development Association chairman who informed parents via a circular. However, what raised the ire of the parents was that the matter was not reported to the police on time.
“We feel the school is hiding something, when the matter came into light, they said they were instituting internal investigations into the rape case. This is where they erred. They were supposed to report the matter with immediate effect and this way the suspect would have been caught already but they gave him enough room to escape and he did just that,” said the source.
The parents said there was a general sentiment that the school authorities were trying to conceal the matter as they never treated it with the urgency it deserved.
“Rape is a serious matter, they should have acted on that same day and leave investigations to the police, not to do the job of the police. Now the suspect has escaped yet we have children who are now traumatised,” fumed a parent.
Medical reports from the school and one done independently by a parent, showed that there was indeed penetration on the victims. According to sources, the alleged rape occurred towards the end of the first term and it is not yet clear how many times the victims were raped and if there were more than two girls involved.
Introduction of girls
REPS, which was previously a boys only school introduced girls in 2016 following poor enrollment. The school argued that the enrollment was low and affecting income generation to pay staff. The school pays all but three of its staffers who are Government employees. The school opted for girls as a strategy to boost numbers which would enable them to pay salaries.
Preparedness for girls
Since the school was for boys only the hostels housing boarders was also built for single sex only. Teachers and matrons stayed inside the hostel with the boys. However, when girls were introduced, there was a division allowing girls to live on one side and boys on the other of the ‘L’ shaped dormitory. However, the division was in the form of doors just being closed and pupils told not to go either side of the dormitory.
The source said moving from one side to the other was as simple as opening a door and one will have access, which he said was very weak in terms of security, privacy and a loophole that could have been abused by unscrupulous individuals. The school did not make provisions for the new learners overtime.
Sources at the school say the assistant boarding master was sexually abusing one pupil for over a year. That victim informed her colleagues, one of which was later raped by the same perpetrator while the other escaped untouched.
Allegations are also that there was access to the girls hostel using the ceiling to avoid detection. When he was confronted with the information of the abuse, he confessed that he was doing it but slipped away soon after.
Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Ambassador Cain Mathema said it is the responsibility of schools to report cases of such a nature.
“Rape is a criminal offence; the school should have followed the normal procedures and reported to the police that such a crime has been committed. Rape is rape. The parents and guardians have the right to also report as soon as they detect such things,” he said.
Commenting on the alleged sloppiness of the school in reporting the matter, Minister Mathema said there should be no intimidation of parents from any school authorities.
“What had happened for the parents and guardians to report the school for dragging. Something is not right. The children do not belong to the school but to the parents, even when rape occurs in the family, it must go straight to the police.
“It is the role of the parents to protect children in any place, even if it is not their child. The rules apply for cases in schools or in homes, crime must be reported as soon as it is discovered.
“Those who seem not to want to report such cases are also criminals or part of the matter,” said Amb Mathema.