How neglect led to another violent tragedy

School pupils were left unattended and a predator struck on the first day of th 16 Days of Activism campaign

On this day last year, I wrote a column for The Cape Times called ‘The tragic irony: 16 days of brutal violence against children’ about a young girl raped by her own father in her own house. The girl, whom I’ll call L, is the niece of my domestic worker, B.

Those who read that column will recall that this happened during the 16 Days of Activism — or whatever its extended title is. Through the resourcefulness and caring of my Twitter community, I was able to ensure she got the right counseling and care. The swift and decisive action of the family ensured the rapist is behind bars.

Brave little L has made remarkable progress this year. Until this week, that is.

Yes, exactly one year later, and during the same period in which our children are supposed to be protected from the violence and abuse that they are subjected to on the other 340 days of the year, L’s world was rocked once again.

She attends the same primary school as her cousin I, B’s son, in the ironically named Mandela Park, Khayelitsha. Last week, all of the parents received a letter informing them that, for the rest of this term, school will end at 1pm instead of the usual 2.45pm. [I’ve passed the school’s details onto Debbie Schafer, Provincial Minister (MEC) for Education Western Cape and asked her to investigate. Surely the school has an obligation to operate full day until the final day of term? How are the working parents of the children who attend this under-resourced school supposed to look after their children from 1pm every day?]

On Wednesday the 25 November, the day that kicked off this year’s 16 Days of Activism, the school failed to protect its pupils against sexual violence at the hands of a depraved man.

The bus that takes some of the children home arrived at the earlier closing time and they left. But the transport that takes another group of children home failed to arrive at the earlier time. Several children were left waiting at the school, which has no security. Nobody called their parents or arranged alternate transport.

The teachers, no doubt excited about the prospect of the first of many afternoons off, left. One by one they walked off the school premises without a thought for their duties as teachers or the children they were abandoning. Actually, I have no idea what they were thinking. Or whether they were thinking. And I hope they will be sufficiently punished for their dereliction of duty. Although, in light of the story that follows, I’m not sure that there is any punishment severe enough for these selfish adults to whom these abandoned children’s parents entrusted their beloved offspring.

All I know is what happened next. A man gained access to the school premises and surprised one of the waiting girls when she went to the toilets, where he was hiding. He raped her. She is in grade 3, which makes her about nine years old. The same age as L, her friend, was when she was raped.

When the transport finally arrived, the man was seen leaving the toilets with the traumatised grade 3 girl. Fortunately for us, the brazen attacker was stupid and desperate enough to come back again the next day, looking for another victim. And the police were waiting for him.

But it’s too late for the grade 3 girl whose teachers abandoned her to a monster.

And it’s too late for L, whose nightmares have returned. The ordeal of her school friend has awakened her own memories. And she and her family are back where they were a year ago.

President Zuma’s address on the opening of this year’s campaign included the following call to arms: “To protect children, we need the support of families and parents in particular. Irresponsible parents and guardians who leave young children unattended and vulnerable to abuse are as guilty as those who commit the crime.”

Well, Mr President, L and this grade 3 girl were both in what should have been safe spaces — home and school — when their bodies were violated and their names added to the list of victims of the relentless sexual violence that plagues this country 365 days of every year.

Both their mothers had every reason to believe their daughters were safe. They were not being “irresponsible parents”. But this didn’t help their daughters.

Another year, another 16 Days of Activism, another young girl’s life destroyed.

This article first appeared in the Rand Daily Mail on 3 December 2014.