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Amid growing outrage after claims that two children were raped at a Grahamstown school, a sea of protesters converged on the Beaufort Street police station this week to demand urgent police action.
Marching up Beaufort Street from town in the Workers' Day protest was a 50-strong group organised by the Rhodes Gender Action Project and Ntuthuko Legal Activism. Meeting them at the police station was a group three times as big, marching behind the banner of the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM).
The protest followed a demonstration outside a local school last week, where a man named by a 7-year-old pupil as her rapist continued to teach, more than three weeks after the alleged attack. No action had yet been taken to remove the teacher from the school when her younger brother, also a pupil at the school, was reportedly raped last week.
After last week's demonstration, the teacher was suspended from the school on full pay. This week parents and community members expressed outrage at the fact that police had made no arrests in the case, and also accused the school of protecting the teacher instead of the children.
“This march is bigger than last week, and the community has come this time, because enough is enough,” said community member Patricia May, who also took part in the earlier protest. Others stood up to express their disgust at the handling of the situation thus far, and to implore authorities to take a more victim-sensitive approach towards rape.
UPM leader Ayanda Kota spoke about the purpose of the protest. “I think it’s important for the community to come out and demonstrate, vent their anger and cry inside at the incompetency of the South African Police Service,” Kota said.
Lembede Jantjie, a member of the Students for Social Justice movement speaking on behalf of the Right2Know Campaign, called for communities to engage in such matters and probe injustices all the time – not only when called to the police station, not only when a child is raped”.
While protestors said they aimed to put pressure on the police to investigate rape cases with urgency, they were not optimistic.
Gender Action Project chairperson Michelle Solomon said of the police, “Even a big protest like this won’t get them to stand up. What it does do is get the community to stand up, and that’s more powerful.”
Leaders of the activist groups present made a decision to collaborate on a plan of action and said they would meet to present a unified stance towards rape in Grahamstown. Commenting on calls by some speakers for the teacher identified by the child as her rapist to be named and shamed, Solomon stressed the importance of protecting his identity.
“If we want the law to work for us, we can’t undermine it,” she said. Solomon said getting the community together to talk about the issue was a valuable outcome.
Meanwhile, police say investigations into the girl's rape - and now that of her brother - are at a very sensitive stage. Both investigations are still continuing, Grahamstown police spokesperson Captain Mali Govender told Grocott's Mail yesterday.
This is part of our investigation and will only be revealed at court. We have not yet identified a suspect or suspects. The investigation is in a very sensitive stage.
While Grocott's Mail's sources said the rape had taken place in the school's toilets, Govender told reporters earlier this week that while a criminal case had been opened for investigation the details - including the date, time and place of the incident - were still unclear, because several versions of the incident had been furnished.
This is normal with victims who have experienced an extremely traumatic incident. In order for an arrest to take place, there has to be sufficient evidence linking the suspect to the crime. At this stage the suspect is not known.
The investigating officer is in contact with the parents, Govender said on Tuesday. Grocott's Mail's source said the girl had twice been attacked in the toilets at the school, first shortly before the Easter holidays and again on the first day of this term.
The source claimed the alleged rapist had keys for the toilets. The source said the attack on the girl's brother had also been carried out in the toilets at the school. It is not clear whether the boy has named the same teacher as his attacker, however.
Eastern Cape department of education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said this week that his department had acted swiftly in suspending the teacher after the rape allegation was reported. He said the teacher had been suspended with full pay. "As you are aware that this is a very sensitive matter having to do with minors, it is adequate for now to confirm the suspension and to further indicate that the department's investigation into the whole matter will run concurrent with the work of the law-enforcement agencies," Pulumani told Grocott's Mail on Tuesday.
"It would therefore be inappropriate to delve further into the merits of this matter, lest we prejudice the investigation and the possible disciplinary process," he said.
Pulumani further emphasised that the teacher remained innocent until proven otherwise. "Departmental protocols preclude me from discussing further internal disciplinary procedures as they are confidential, involving [only] employer and employee," said Pulumani.
The school's principal refused to comment earlier this week, referring the reporter to the department of education and the police.