Ex-coach at top school in sex abuse spotlight

An independent review board of inquiry was established last year following claims of impropriety involving the school’s ex-water polo coach, David Mackenzie.

This week’s release of the findings of an independent probe into allegations of, among others, sexual misconduct on the part of a former coach at St Andrew’s College (SAC) in the Eastern Cape, has once again cast a spotlight on child abuse in the school setting in South Africa.

An independent review board of inquiry was established last year following claims of impropriety involving the school’s ex-water polo coach, David Mackenzie.

These claims were brought to public attention by a News24 investigation into the death of Thomas Kruger – a 16-year-old pupil who took his own life in 2018.

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In its report – a redacted version of which was published on the school website on Wednesday – the board found that evidence pointed to Mackenzie having sexually groomed boys. Headmaster Alan Thompson, meanwhile, was found wanting in his duty to take care of his pupils and has since stepped down.

A number of South African schools have found themselves at the centre of highly publicised sex abuse scandals in recent years. But as head of advocacy for Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) Luke Lamprecht explained yesterday, many cases of abuse in the school setting were either swept under the rug or went completely unreported.

“The biggest issue we face with abuse at the hands of teachers or coaches is the disincentive to disclose,” he said.

Lamprecht said sexual grooming often involved a “transactional element”, where children were coerced into
doing something wrong themselves, which could be used as leverage to dissuade them from disclosing abuse.”

He also pointed to “rampant homophobia” in many schools, which made pupils hesitant to report same-sex abuse. Lamprecht warned parents to keep an eye out for anyone who was paying more attention to their children than they were.

“Your child wanting to spend more time with another adult than with you, should also worry you,” he said.

Both he and child rights and child protection consultant Joan Van Niekerk said it was important for parents to work at developing open relationships with their children from an early age, so they felt comfortable speaking about abuse.

“Ultimately the single most protective factor is the relationship with the parent,” Lamprecht said.

“Children must be able to talk openly about such things when, for example, it features in the news.”

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Van Niekerk also highlighted that, despite the department of basic education only recently having gazetted its policy on the prevention and management of pregnancy in schools making it mandatory for teachers to report underage pregnancies, section 110 of the Children’s Amendment Act, which makes the reporting of suspected child
abuse mandatory, had been in place since 2010.

Van Niekerk said this makes it also mandatory for teachers to report suspected child abuse.

Mackenzie’s attorney, Danie Gouws, was quoted on HeraldLive as saying they noted the board’s findings were based on “untested evidence” and they were looking forward “to testing the findings in the interest of justice, the public and teachers.”

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